A primary concern in dog bite cases is whether there is adequate insurance to pay for the dog bite victim’s damages. Most homeowner insurance policies will provide coverage for injuries inflicted by the family dog. But each policy is different and should be reviewed carefully. If there is no insurance, then it is extremely unlikely that the dog bite victim will be able to receive compensation for damages. A frequent question heard in our office from prospective clients is: even if there’s no insurance, can you still sue the dog owner? Yes, of course you can. But lawsuits cost money. In many instances a lot of money. I’m not talking about the lawyer’s fees, although that certainly adds to the cost of litigation. More specifically, are the costs of the litigation. The costs of litigation may include filing fees, expert fees, investigative costs, charges assessed to collect medical and other important records, costs incurred to create trial exhibits, and deposition and court reporter expenses. In many cases these costs can add up to several thousands of dollars – even in the smallest of cases. Since Washington attorney ethics rules require that a client is always responsible for costs, an attorney has to be sure that the economic value of the case justifies the expected costs associate with litigation.
When no insurance exists, there is no guaranteed source of recovery. This means the client may be stuck with several thousands of dollars of costs, even if he or she wins at trial! Contrary to popular belief, a person who wins at trial will usually have to pay his own attorney and most of the costs. This is also true in dog bite cases. A win at trial only means you are entitled to a judgment against the person who is being sued. With a judgment, you can garnish a small portion of the person’s wages, or try to execute on the defendant’s personal assets. But there are costs associated with these collection efforts, and again, there is no guarantee that you will be successful in recovering money, or enough money to pay the attorney for his or her time and effort spent in the collection. And the collection process can take a lot of time and effort. The person who was successfully sued may also file for bankruptcy, which may wipe out the judgment or the debt, leaving the dog bite victim with a worthless piece of paper. Given the difficulties associated with the collection process, along with the sizable outlay of money necessary to pay the costs of litigation, most contingency fee lawyers will decline to accept a case unless there is an insurance policy to pay a verdict. Without a guaranteed source of recovery, most attorneys will refuse to incur the thousands of dollars of expense and spend the hundreds of hours necessary to prepare the case and take it to trial.
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