It happends all too often. A defendant is negligent, gets a letter from the injured plaintiff's attorney or law suit papers and fails to notify his insurance liability carrier. The net result is a compounded civil legal problem. This happpened in a recent dog bite case that we settled. We settled the case for a substantial sum of money after filing a civil lawsuit against the dog owner and keeper and placing a court ordered attachment on the dog keeper's personal residence. There were multiple witnesses to the attack on our client.
Our client, a pleasant women from Meriden, Connecticut, was attacked by a pit bull while walking her small dog on a public sidewalk in Meriden. The pit bull slipped his collar and leash. The client tried to save her dog and in the process had her right arm bitten multiple times. The right arm became infected and the client developed a staphylococcus infection in her right arm after losing her small dog in the pit bull attack.
The defendants were a father and son who resided together in Meriden. The father provided shelter and food for the Pit Bull and the son was the Pit Bull owner. In Connecticut, by statute, both the owner of the dog and the keeper of the dog are strictly liable for personal property and personal injury as long as the plaintiff is not tormenting or teasing the dog. The sister of the owner was walking the dog but she did not qualify as a dog keeper under Connecticut case law because her dog care was for a limited transient period of time.
The dog keeper father had homeowners liability insurance. Both the father who was the dog keeper and the son who was the dog owner failed to notify the insurance carrier immediately after the attack. Our office quickly brought suit and filed an application for a prejudgment attachment. The attachment was granted by the court after the defendant keeper failed to appear at the initial court ordered attachment legal proceeding.
The defendants eventual contacted their liability carrier after being defaulted by the court before the case proceeded to judgment by way of a hearing in damages.
Fortunately for all parties, the liability carrier waived its reservation of rights defense of late notice by the defendant, the insured's failure to timely turn over suit papers and the defendant's failure to cooperate. A significant reason for the reservation of rights waiver was that the defendants had not yet been prejudiced. The action had not gone to final judgment. The defendant keeper and owner did communicate with their liability carrier after they had been defaulted for their failure to appear and had received notice of their default by the Meriden Superior Court.
The actions of the defendants had potential disastrous consequences. The plaintiff could have been boxed out of liability insurance proceeds because of the poor judgment used by the defendants resulting in voidable defendant insurance coverage.
The defendant ran a significant risk that a judgment lien would have been recorded on the land records pertaining to his real estate which would have related back to the date of attachment.
The plaintiff had additional risk that any judgment she obtained could not be foreclosed upon as the only real estate the defendant keeper owned which the court ordered attached was his residence. This residence had limited equity and would have been subject to protection from foreclosure by way of Connecticut's homestead exemption. The net resulted could have been a judgment lien recorded on the defendant's land records without execution meaning it would have sat there until the property was either sold or refinanced by the defendant.
The case was eventually resolved for a significant amount of money on behalf of our client after plaintiff's counsel and an experienced insurance adjuster operating with authority from out of state management negotiated the salient issues which included damages.
As for the pit bull, he was euthanized after the defendant owner failed to show up for a mandated hearing held by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture.
Finally, it should be noted that Connecticut case law requires that the plaintiff prove that the insured cooperated with his insurance carrier when the insurer raises the issue of the insured's violation of the cooperation clause of the insurance policy.Arton v Liberty Mutual Insurance Company, 163 Conn 127, 135, 302 A. 2d 284 (1972). This issue is generally raised by way of special defense to the plaintiff's complaint by the insurance carrier in a declaratory judgment action brought against the carrier to determine insurance coverage.