A Large and Historic Dog Bite Settlement

Heinrich Law’s understanding of animal related laws drove one the largest dog bite settlements on record in California

Kelly v. Ford


Ms. Kelly, a successful real estate agent, was visiting an acquaintance at her home when she was bitten in the face by a newly adopted rescue dog who became viciously aggressive.

The bite was so severe that it tore the flesh on and around Ms. Kelly’s mouth and lip. Ms. Kelly was rushed into emergency reconstructive surgery under general anesthesia, but the surgeon was unable to fully repair the extensive facial damage. Though she later underwent further revision surgery and extensive laser treatment, the shape of her lip and mouth was forever altered.

Soon after the dog bite, Ms. Kelly filed an insurance claim under her acquaintance’s homeowner’s insurance policy. The dog’s owner accepted responsibility, but their homeowner’s insurance company refused to admit the significance of Ms. Kelly’s injuries and damages.

It became clear that Ms. Kelly would need aggressive representation to ensure the insurance company understood the value of her claim and was prepared to pay an amount substantial enough to compensate her for the severity of the injuries and their impact on her life.


In California, dog owners are strictly liable for injuries inflicted on others by their dogs. However, this doesn’t mean insurance companies are willing to offer just compensation to dog bite victims.

In this case, the dog owner’s insurance company believed it could settle for a reduced amount because it assumed if the case went to trial, enough dog owners would be on the jury, thereby resulting in a smaller than just verdict.

Heinrich Law needed to:

  • Identify all available insurance coverage which could provide compensation for our client;
  • Establish facts indicating that the actions of the dog owner increased the likelihood of the attack on our client;
  • Demonstrate the total impact of our client’s injuries on her quality of life; and
  • Prove that Marjorie Heinrich, through the jury selection process, would be able to eliminate any juror not willing to fully compensate Ms. Kelly for her harms and losses.


After the insurance company refused to make a fair settlement offer, Heinrich Law filed a lawsuit to obtain full compensation. These were the essential steps in our victory:

Identification of all insurance policies

We established that there was an umbrella policy that supplemented the homeowner’s underlying policy, affording an additional layer of compensation.

Investigation uncovered critical facts about the dog

Heinrich Law’s investigation proved that the acquaintance knew her dog had a history of violent behavior yet invited Ms. Kelly into her home anyway, never acknowledging the dog might attack her.

Through extensive research, and in particular a review of social media posts, we proved that both the dog owner and the dog rescue organization publicly shared information about the dog’s clear history of aggressive behavior.

This revelation was evidence of a reckless failure to warn our client of the danger posed by the rescue dog, thereby exposing the dog’s owner to punitive damages. It further proved to the insurance company that it would have significant exposure if the case went to trial.

Gathering perspectives on non-economic damages

Ms. Heinrich and her team met regularly with Ms. Kelly to follow her recovery and understand how her injuries impacted her life. We also interviewed Ms. Kelly’s friends and coworkers to gain perspective on the full extent of Ms. Kelly’s pain and suffering.

Friends described how Ms. Kelly relayed a feeling of seeing a stranger in the mirror due to changes in the shape of her lips when she smiled. Coworkers described how a lack of confidence in her appearance was adversely impacted her ability to close real estate deals.

Armed with these valuable perspectives, Heinrich Law told Ms. Kelly’s powerful story, successfully demonstrating the profound impact the incident had on her personal and professional life.


After written discovery, taking depositions, and the client attending two medical legal examinations, the parties went to private mediation and agreed to resolve the matter for $875,000, one of the largest dog-bite related settlements in California history.

If you have been seriously injured by a dog – whether a dog bite or knockdown – please contact us.  The consultation is free to you.