A few lessons can be learned from this case. First, a smart business owner should always have at least a million-dollar insurance policy. Second, the lawyer you choose for a serious injury or death case will greatly impact the amount of money recovered and the time it takes to recover the money.
The lawyer you choose for your injury case may drastically change the outcome
Many injury attorneys fail to recognize the importance of insurance company bad faith when they negotiate settlements. In serious injury cases with insufficient insurance policy limits, the best injury attorneys will quickly convey that the true value of the claim exceeds the policy limits. In most states, including Ohio and Kentucky, an insurance company must pay the policy limits or the amount it believes is fair compensation for the harms and losses, as soon as it has sufficient information to assess the true value of the case.
We routinely see lawyers undervalue cases and start negotiating with an insurance company using the number available under the insurance policy as a ceiling. The correct number to use is the actual value of the harms and losses caused, even if that number is greater than the insurance policy. The insurance company will then have a choice – pay the entire insurance policy immediately or the demand for the policy will expire and the case will be taken to a jury trial for full value. If the company does not pay the policy, and sufficient evidence exists that the claim is worth more than the policy, the company cannot later offer the policy to avoid its prior bad faith.
The reason most lawyers are not good at properly setting case value and driving the bad faith angle is because too many “injury lawyers” do not take cases to jury trial with great success or at all. Sadly, when a non-aggressive attorney with little or no jury trial success handles a case, the injured person may suffer more because litigation drags on and true value of the case is often not reached.
Ohio Revised Code – Dog Bites
Ohio Revised Code § 955.28 imposes strict liability upon the owner, keeper, or harborer of a dog “for any injury, death, or loss to person or property that is caused by the dog.” To prevail in a dog bite case under this statute, the plaintiff must prove (1) ownership, keepership, or harborship of the dog, (2) the actions of the dog were the proximate cause of damage, and (3) the monetary amount of damages. Under a statutory action, a defendant’s knowledge of the dog’s viciousness and a defendant’s negligence in keeping the dog are irrelevant.
It is typically very easy to establish liability in dog bite cases – most lawyers can easily do it. The biggest challenge in most dog bite cases is driving damages and understanding the overlap between bad faith law and the applicable insurance policy.
Using the methods described above, attorneys Matt Nakajima and Charlie M. Rittgers recently recovered $1 million for a woman who was seriously injured by a dog at a local business. Her medical bills were around $20,000. The business owners had a $1 million commercial insurance policy which covered the settlement. The entire policy was paid quickly without the need for depositions, trial, or delay.