One family’s holiday get-together quickly turned into an emergency situation when a visitor’s dog attacked a young girl. It’s something that could happen anytime a dog is around an unfamiliar child—that much is easy enough to understand. What’s not so simple in a child injury or personal injury case, is determining how to assess the scope of the damage, and how to hold the responsible party accountable for it.
The dog bite and lasting scars
The Morrison* family—Mitchell, Gwen, and their 3-year-old daughter, Natalie—was looking forward to moving from South Carolina to northeast Ohio to live closer to family. They visited Ohio to stay with Gwen’s mother over the Christmas holiday season, but what should have been a time of celebration quickly turned tragic.
Also visiting Natalie’s grandmother were her aunt, her aunt’s boyfriend, Joe, and his dog. Like many little girls, Natalie loved dogs and asked Joe if she could pet his. Joe assured Natalie that his dog was friendly and it was safe to pet him. It turned out that he was sorely mistaken. Just as Natalie began to reach out, the dog lunged at her and bit her repeatedly.
Natalie was rushed to the hospital with serious wounds on her face, chest, shoulder, and side. More than 50 stitches were required to close the lacerations on her body.
Identifying responsibility for a personal injury
In some ways Natalie was fortunate. Despite the severity of the attack, doctors were confident that her facial lacerations would heal and leave little trace of the injury. Unfortunately, the prognosis was not as optimistic for the scars on her arm and torso, where there would be prominent disfigurement for the rest of her life.
It’s possible that the dog had a history of aggression, or he may simply have been startled, but one thing was clear: Even though the attack occurred on the grandmother’s property, it was Joe, the dog’s owner, who should be held responsible. Under Ohio law, if a dog injures someone, the dog’s owner is liable for that injury. So, after returning to South Carolina, the Morrisons hired a local attorney to pursue a personal injury action.
It just so happened that Joe held a homeowner’s insurance policy that clearly stated it would cover damage done by dogs, which qualify as property. His insurance company, not surprisingly, disagreed. It consistently thwarted any attempts made by the Morrison’s first attorney to recover on the policy. It simply refused to comply. Faced with daunting medical bills and feeling quite hopeless, the Morrisons reached out to us for help.
Ohio civil litigation attorneys succeed outside the courtroom
In this circumstance, we preferred to negotiate directly with Joe’s insurance company instead of resorting to a lawsuit and trial. Because Natalie was only 3, we did not want her to have to relive the details of the attack through depositions and courtroom testimony.
Being experienced in child injury cases, we took into consideration the special challenges that accompany this type of case: What is just compensation? How do you value the long-term effects of personal injury for someone so young? How could Natalie express—or, at her age, even be able to imagine—how such prominent body scars would impact her confidence and self-image as she grew older?
Restoring a disfigured girl’s future
Ultimately, we were able to persuade the insurance company that effects from the scars on Natalie’s body would have long-term effects that were more than just physical. We presented interviews from women who had suffered similar disfiguring injuries when they were young, to provide perspective on the emotional challenges Natalie might face as a teenager and adult. As a result, the insurance company agreed to a substantial settlement that covered Natalie’s medical expenses.
The compensation we achieved went beyond those medical expenses, as it should have. It also had to take into consideration the trauma of the event, a shock shared by the entire family, with unknown long-term effects. And because Natalie was so young, the settlement could be expected to grow substantially and provide a strong financial foundation as she approached adulthood.
In the end, we were happy to achieve results that will give Natalie and her family the best chance of healing from their experience as they navigate the effects of the attack going forward. Beyond that, we were able to send a message to the insurance company that it could and would be forced to honor the details of its policies.
If you require assistance with a child’s personal injury or wrongful death case, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Ohio civil litigation attorneys at Cooper & Elliott. We’re here to help.
*Names in this article have been changed to protect our client’s privacy.
The outcome of any client’s case will depend on the particular legal and factual circumstances of the case.