Court could help pit bull victim bite back
The information in this column is not intended as legal advice but to provide a general understanding of the law. Readers with legal problems, including those whose questions are addressed here, should consult attorneys for advice on their particular circumstances.
Q: I was walking my dog at a local park area, and a pit bull got loose and charged at me and my dog. My dog was injured severely, and I incurred a large veterinary bill. The dog's owner refuses to pay. Are there any options? If I sue in small claims court, what are my chances of winning?
A: Your chances are good. If a dog owner is aware of the dangerous tendency of a dog, the owner can be held liable. Since the dog was a pit bull, your case should be fairly easy to prove.
To win in small claims court, you would have to show that the dog was dangerous, that the owner knew of this trait, and that the injury resulted from the dog being dangerous.
You also may be able to recover punitive damages, which are damages beyond the vet bill, if you can also prove that the owner let the dog run wild with reckless disregard for your and your dog's welfare. Note, though, that cases in small claims court can't involve matters over $10,000.
Q: My widowed mother has been in a nursing home since 2008. Her house, which has been vacant since then, is paid for, and the property taxes are low. I am considering either renting it out or selling it. My mother would not need the money either way. Would my siblings and I (who stand to inherit her estate equally) be better off selling the house now or waiting until my mother dies?
A: The answer to your question depends on how wealthy your mother is and how much the house is worth.
If your mother is not wealthy and receives Medicaid or other government benefits, then it most likely would not be a good idea to sell or rent the home.
Selling it would convert an exempt asset into one that would be counted in determining her eligibility for benefits.
Renting the home might cause your mother's income to exceed the maximum amount she can earn and still qualify for government benefits, necessitating the creation of a special trust to lower her income artificially.
If your mother is funding her nursing home stay with her own money or with long-term care insurance, then there probably would be no problem with selling or renting the home. However, if you do sell and the gain exceeds $250,000, then she would owe capital gains taxes. In such a case, it might be better to wait until after her death to sell.