Your first step, if your dog has been injured, should be to write a letter to the person who caused the injury, setting out what happened. Even if the person you're writing to knows the facts as well as you do, it's a good way to organize your thoughts and make them clear to the other person. Include how much money you think would compensate you for your loss, explain how you arrived at that figure, and mention any state statute or case that applies directly to your situation.
Learn about compensation for the injury or death of a dog.
In the letter, give a deadline for payment—that's a good incentive for the person to act quickly. And say that if you don't work something out by then, you'll file a small claims (or other) court case. In some states, a letter to the other side demanding payment is required by law before you can file a small claims action.
EXAMPLE: Your next-door neighbor hires a tree-trimming service to prune a tree that stands near the boundary of your properties. An employee drops a heavy branch into your yard; it lands on your unsuspecting dog below. Below is a sample letter you might send to the tree trimmer.
May 14, 20xx
Mr. Anthony Tucker
Tucker Tree Trimming
2144 Lilac Lane
Littleton, IL 61433
Dear Mr. Tucker:
Three weeks ago, on April 21, your employee Hannah Boardman dropped a large tree limb into my yard while trimming a tree on my neighbor's property. It hit my dog Buster and seriously injured his hind leg. For two weeks he had to take painkillers; only now is he able to walk almost normally again.
As a result of your employee's carelessness, I incurred a veterinary bill of $425 for Buster's examinations, X-rays, and medication. (Copies of my receipts are enclosed.) I also suffered severe shock and distress, because I was sitting on my patio when the limb fell, and I saw it hit Buster. I thought he might be severely injured or killed.
I am willing to give up any claim I might have for my own emotional distress, but I think you should reimburse me for the cost of Buster's treatment. If you would like to discuss the matter further, please give me a call. Please get back to me by May 25. I would prefer to work this out between us rather than take the matter to small claims or circuit court.
8855 Baltimore Ave.
Littleton, IL 61433
To negotiate a settlement, think about getting some help from a free or low-cost community mediation program. A mediator's job is to help people solve their own problems; the mediator has no power to impose a decision.
If you reach an agreement, be sure to put it in writing and have all the people involved sign it. You can type out your own agreement, or use a pre-printed release form. The sample uses a release form from 101 Law Forms for Personal Use , by Robin Leonard and Ralph Warner (Nolo).