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Dog Bite Child Settlement
This article rehearses the facts of a case involving a dog biting a child.
It’s Good to Reach Out
This story involves a darling 3-year-old little girl. Her cuteness is not mere overstatement for the sake of storytelling. It’s an undisputed fact in the case and was one of the reasons the insurance company did not feel much pressure to pay up.
In 2014, while visiting some family friends, this child was bitten on the face by a small Welsh Corgi/Labrador mix. Her parents leaped into action. She was taken to the hospital and received quality care. Tangentially, you should know that the dog is still alive and well, though much more guarded.
The bite caused multiple tooth-sized lacerations on her face. They were located along the nasolabial fold with punctures in the lip trailing up to the corner of the eye. There were no sutures, given how small they were. Later, cellulitis formed in the eye, and she was hospitalized at Seattle Children’s Hospital for three days. She healed fully with no further complications.
As is typical, scars formed flecking the contours of her little face. There were five scars ranging from 4-5mm long by 1-2mm wide to 12 mm long by 3 mm wide. They are noticeable to the casual observer and are permanent. The Claimant will have to grow up and pass through adolescence with this scarring.
She underwent therapy for PTSD to help her feel comfortable around dogs again. But more importantly, this alteration to her face is permanent. She will spend somewhere in the realm of eighty plus years with her scars. She will have to go through adolescence with her scarred face. She will have to field questions from children, teens and adults about her scars. She will think of dogs every time she looks in the mirror, applies makeup, considers her appearance and determines her own self-esteem. Her entire memory of herself will involve a scarred face.
I am a young attorney. I didn’t feel like I had the experience to determine adequate damages under the circumstances. As a father to a little girl myself, I tried to consider what my daughter would feel like if this had happened to her. I considered the future she would have in her school and community.
I knew young women who suffered injuries throughout my youth and considered their varied stories and backgrounds. Each was so different; it was hard to come to universal conclusions.
Ultimately, I had to conclude that other attorneys had posed similar questions before with similar cases. I looked into past verdicts and settlements in Washington. I took the liberty of calling up attorneys who had reached settlements with facial scarring before. This is how I became acquainted with Ms. Jody K. Reich, a partner at Dethlefs Sparwasser in Edmonds, who had settled a similar case in 2014.
When a young attorney is calling another attorney for guidance, you can rest assured that the young attorney is uncomfortable doing the cold call and bugging somebody who clearly has little valuable time to spare being bothered. Fortunately for my client, Ms. Reich was just the kind of friendly we need in the world. She provided me a copy of her settlement letter as well as the collection of case settlements and verdicts she had used to settle her case. She talked to me about my client and considered my approach in addressing this little girl’s feelings and future. She offered clear guidance and encouragement.
That experience helped me frame my argument, strengthen the language of my demand, and substantially raise the figure I had originally considered. I felt like I had a team in my corner and was ready to get to work.
The initial insurance adjuster handling the matter at American Modern Insurance argued that the Claimant was “too cute” to merit the demand. She felt that, if anything, the little marks on this little girl’s cheeks only added to her character. She pointed to Royse v. Nieto (which settled prior to trial). In that case, the Plaintiff had suffered a 1.5cm laceration to her chin by a dog. That Plaintiff settled for $75,000. The adjuster in our little girl’s story felt that the scar in the Royse case was much more severe than our little girl’s flecks across her cheek. So, she offered to settle for $47,000, and claimed this was near the highest she would go.
The differences in these cases are clear, though. The Plaintiff in Royse was an adult woman in her mid-forties. While she may have to live another forty or so years with her scar, our little girl will spend essentially all of her life with her scars. More dramatically though, she will have to undergo the volatile transitions of adolescence accommodating her scars. In truth, she likely will pass through adolescence peaceably because these scars are not severe and she has a strong team of family and friends around her. Even so, her experience is different than is found in other cases.
In the end, a new adjuster took over, and agreed to settle the matter for $100,000. The adjuster also agreed to fund the obligatory settlement guardian ad litem procedures in court (SPR Rule 98.16W).
Along the way I learned the value of reaching out to other attorneys. Most seem plenty willing to help. As a man, it is important that I listen carefully to what a woman feels about the situation and the kinds of scars this little girl has suffered. It was important to talk to the child’s mother, to the adjuster, to other women, to the doctor and to other attorneys in order to get a grasp, as much as possible, on the big picture. Settlement is much easier when a team is behind you with a wealth of information.
Now, our 3-year-old little friend has a healthy settlement waiting for her until she turns eighteen. She will have a future as bright and promising as anyone. I personally hope that she will recognize that her settlement is a sign of how much other people cared for her, including her attorney.