Valuating Intangible Harms in a Washington State Dog Bite Case

In Washington State, a person injured in any accident where negligence is an issue has the right to recover compensation for “intangible” damages. Such intangible harms are difficult to calculate because they include those subjective harms that the dog bite victim has experienced from the injury, including pain, agony, disability, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment, inconvenience, and mental anguish. These intangible harms are purely subjective, difficult to determine and their existence or degree may often vary among the people (or jurors) who are deciding the case. Ultimately, the value of a dog bite case is determined by the jury (or a judge if the case is a bench trial). When a claim arises, the injured person’s attorney and the at-fault person’s insurance company (and the defense attorney if the case is in litigation) continually try to evaluate how a jury might see the case and how much money a jury might award. Then each side will assign a value or a value range, and try to negotiate a settlement close to each side’s own range.

An attorney will use his or her experience and expertise to help establish a reasonable range of money into which a jury’s verdict might fall. Nothing is certain however. Any case can be lost at trial because juries are very unpredictable. You never know what group of people you will get on a jury. Two different juries can produce two very different verdicts, even when presented with the same evidence and testimony. You may get a “good” group of jurors or a “bad” group. Common to popular myth, you cannot “select” a good jury over a bad one. The law only allows each side to strike 3 jurors out of a panel of 30 to 40 people. Thus, a trial is always to a certain extent a gamble. There is no guarantee that a jury will reach a favorable verdict, no matter how good you or the attorney believe the case is.

As stated previously, sometimes it may take many months or years before the value of a dog bite case can be adequately assessed. One reason for this is because of the slow progress of the person’s recovery or rehabilitation. Another reason is the complexity of the injury or condition that may cause a significant delay in a firm diagnosis by the treating physician. Another reason is that it may take a long time before the person’s scarring and/or disfigurement is considered permanent according to the doctor.