Attorney Ben Schwartz gives Jackie (a Paralegal in Connecticut) some great tips for a client who has a case involving a dog bite while at work.
Dog Bite While At Work – Workers’ Compensation and Dog Bite Cases
Hi, I’m Attorney Ben Schwartz,
Today we’re going to answer a question from Jackie in Connecticut. Jackie wrote in and she said, “I’m a paralegal and I was reading your article about workers’ compensation and dog bite cases. I’m in Connecticut & I’m handling a dog bite case with an attorney here and our state has strict liability too. Our client also was on the job. If you could briefly share with me how to proceed with filing both claims. The workers’ compensation actually paid the medical bills, but do I follow up with the homeowner’s insurance for our client to be able to get pain and suffering damages?”
This is a really great question, Jackie. I appreciate you sending me that email and giving me that question. I think it’s very insightful and it’s something that if you’re an attorney, or if you’re a paralegal, or if you’re a member of the general public, this is something that you might want to know about. Essentially, I cannot tell you how things work in Connecticut. I cannot advise you on the Connecticut law. I represent people in workers’ compensation cases, dog bite cases, personal injury cases generally in Delaware and Maryland and other attorneys in my firm handle cases in states like Pennsylvania and New Jersey. But I don’t handle cases in Connecticut. I don’t know Connecticut law. Every state law is going to be different. Jackie, I can give you a framework to think about this and I can answer your question about what to do in reference to which insurance company to contact.
Let’s back up a minute. You’re already handling this client’s case. They were on the job and they were bitten by someone else’s dog. You’ve made a workers’ comp claim with their employer’s insurance company. What does workers’ compensation cover? I don’t know, I’m not a Connecticut attorney, but I can tell you that every state has some scheme of workers’ compensation insurance coverage. It’s going to be likely to cover medical expenses. It’s going to be likely to cover wages or some form of wage replacement. Typically in workers’ comp cases, depending on which state you’re in, typically in workers’ comp cases this is called total disability lost wages. It’s going to cover permanency so that if there is some permanent functional loss of use of a body part or an organ, the claimant, the client, is going to be likely to be eligible to receive some form of compensation for that. It’s going to cover disfigurement, which is a dog bite case, is very often the case that you have a disfigurement. Because disfigurement means a change in appearance, so if you have scarring in a visible area on your client, they probably have a right to make a claim for disfigurement benefits under workers’ compensation. Depending on the state there are other things that workers’ comp may or may not cover.
Then you asked how do I make a claim for the liability case? The liability case is this, it’s not the workers’ comp case. Let’s say that you want to pursue a claim against the dog owner who has this dangerous dog that’s going around attacking people while they’re trying to do their jobs, which is called a liability case. It’s called a liability case whether your state has strict liability for dog owners whose dogs injured people. It’s called a liability case whether you don’t have strict liability, you might have to prove that the owner negligently permitted the dog to bite your client. It’s the liability case. Nonetheless, in the liability case, you can make a claim for the same stuff that you made a claim for in the workers’ comp case. The medical expenses, the lost wages, permanent functional impairment to a body part, disfigurement or scarring.
You can also, generally speaking, make a claim for pain and suffering damage in your liability case and that’s one of the big things that makes a liability case different from a workers’ comp claim. In workers’ comp claims in the United States of America, you don’t get pain and suffering damage.
The third thing that you need to consider, well let me back up on this liability claim… You asked, “Do I contact the dog owners insurance?” I would say you start with the dog owner himself or herself. You contact the dog owner and you say you are representing Mrs. Smith, we are going to make a liability case claim against you. Please contact your homeowner’s insurance and have your homeowner’s insurance claim representative get in contact with me. That way I can work out a resolution to this case and not have to sue you. Oftentimes the homeowner does nothing, so you send him or her a letter. You send it certified mail. If you don’t get anywhere, you can contact the recorder of deeds for the property records department in the county or state where the homeowner resides. Maybe they have a mortgage and the mortgage company required them to have homeowner’s insurance and you can research who their homeowner’s insurance is. Or maybe you start sending out letters to the various insurance companies that do a lot of business in your state. Tell them if you ensure this person get in contact with us, we are going to file a liability claim against them. These are all the ways you can find out who the homeowner’s insurance, or if there is a homeowner’s insurance in the first place. You can sue the owner of the dog and if you file a lawsuit against the owner of the dog, if they have homeowner’s insurance or renter’s insurance, that insurance company will provide them with the defense attorney and pay any judgment you get against them or any settlement that can be obtained.
Now with all that said, here’s the fourth thing that you need to think about. When you are working on an on-the-job dog bite, does your state have a system of liens and credits? If your state has a system of liens and credits, that means that what workers’ comp has paid for medical treatment or permanent impairment, or what have you, is going to be paid back to the workers’ comp insurance company out of this liability claims settlement. It also means that in the situation and where you settle the liability claim settlement and your client receives money from that, the workers’ comp carrier might have a credit. So, if you settle let’s say for example you settle the liability claim for $10,000 and your client gets $6,500 dollars in their pocket, that might mean that for the next $6,500 dollars of medical treatment that is submitted to workers’ comp workers’ comp he or she doesn’t have to pay, that would be a credit.
These are the 4 things you look at in coordinating benefits in an on-the-job dog bite.
- What benefits can we obtain through workers’ comp?
- What benefits can we obtain through a liability case?
- Is there a system of liens and credits and if so, how do we time these claims?
- How do we time these settlements so that we maximize the benefits for our client?
I hope that this discussion gives you a framework for how to go about handling this claim. My suggestion would be to watch this video, watch it a couple of times. Send me an email. I cannot give you state-specific legal advice, but I can give you a framework for how to think about how to handle this case. That framework can be used to talk to the attorney who is going to be litigating the case in order to make a plan that helps you maximize the benefits for your client.
Jackie, thanks for your email. Good luck to you. You can contact me if you have questions about the law generally about personal injury litigation in general. I’m Ben Schwartz, an attorney in the state of Delaware and the state of Maryland as well.
Thanks for watching!