I was bit in the face and arm by a neighborhood dog that had escaped his own backyard – I checked his tag and even called the owner, as I went to get up I must have startled the dog because he struck at lightning speed! no growling, no warning other than he tilted his head and recoiled a bit. The owners tell me they are broke, expecting a child, living day to day, and even pleaded with me not to sue – they seem reluctant to pay the entire medical bill though they have offered to help with the deductible. I don’t have insurance – the ambulance plus hospital bills total approx $2500 – I had to have stitches on my jaw and arm. If I sue them, will I even see any money? Is it even worth it? I’ve asked them to agree to an installment plan – they seem to be willing to give a little, but not pay for all the bills. Any advice?
As a general rule in most jurisdictions, an attack by a dog that is off his property triggers liability. This means that you do not have to prove that the owner was in any way negligent in controlling his dog. The law will (generally) recognize your right to require the owner to pay for your injuries. This would include all of your bills, as well as time off from work. From what you say here, you would likely win a lawsuit against the owners.
However, you are concerned about the owners not being able to pay you after a lawsuit. Ideally, the owner has homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. These policies generally cover dog bites, so the owner would not have an out of pocket expense (although his premiums may increase). If they do not have a policy, or the policy does not cover this incident, the owner is personally liable for the cost.
You could file a lawsuit against the owner. You would most likely prevail, and would be awarded the cost of the bills as well as other damages. The court would then require the owner to pay as much as possible, and could place a lien on any property the owner owns for the remaining amount. This situation could cause substantially more hardship on your neighbor than what you have proposed with the payment plan.
If you will be satisfied with only having your medical expenses reimbursed, you could explain that you are willing to forgo other damages if the owner agrees to a payment plan for medical expenses. If your neighbor still refuses, you could also suggest that you both hire a mediator to help resolve the differences. If you decide to come to an arrangement with the owner, be sure to have the terms of your
agreement in writing so that you can enforce it if the owner later fails to meet his obligation.