By: Sylvia Mayer, Mayer on Mediation (http://smayerlaw.com/category/mayer-on-mediation)
Litigation involving dogs is a special breed. Many of us love our dogs like we love our children. We revel in their accomplishments, suffer when they suffer, feel joy when they seem happy, and feel anguish when they appear troubled. Because of this special relationship, dog cases (meaning disputes involving dogs fighting, dogs biting, dogs barking, dogs attacking, dogs dying, etc.) present unique challenges, as does mediation of those disputes.
While general mediation prep tips apply to these cases, having successfully mediated several dog cases, I offer below some preparation suggestions unique to cases involving Rover.
Know the Emotions. Emotions are heightened where our dogs are concerned, which means that dog cases must be handled with care. Prior to mediation, it is important that the parties understand the dynamics of mediation. They should be prepared to share their experience and be receptive to listening to the other party. Whether the sharing occurs in a private discussion with the mediator or joint session with the other party, this sharing is a necessary first step in achieving resolution. If it is too emotional or difficult for the parties to be together in a joint session, then make sure to advise the mediator.
Know the Law. While we may think of our dogs as part of the family, the law generally views our dogs as property. Make sure you know the law before you go to mediation. Understanding the limitations and options available in dog cases will help you manage your client’s expectations, which is important for both mediation and trial.
Know The Insurance. In dog cases, plaintiffs typically have one overarching question – does the defendant have homeowners or automobile insurance covering the incident. Statistical information varies widely, but a significant portion of claims made on homeowners policies relate to pets. However, not all policies are alike. Given the increase in pet related claims, some policies now contain pet exclusions or limitations. In the context of mediation, this means that at least part of the settlement dialog will be around whether there is a policy, whether that policy contains a pet exclusion, and whether there are any requirements or limitations in the policy applicable to the situation. As a result, parties should come prepared to discuss insurance.
While it may be a dog eat dog world out there, it doesn’t have to be that way in mediation. Mediation affords the parties to dog cases a safe environment where they can control the outcome of their litigation and achieve closure on what is often a painful and charged experience. As with any mediation, preparation can help facilitate a favorable result.