Although under many circumstances it is certainly possible for a dog bite victim to win a lawsuit or negotiate a settlement, a successful dog bite claim is useless if the dog owner lacks the financial resources to pay it. In many cases, however, the dog owner’s insurance policy will cover all or part of the damages arising from a dog bite. Which insurance policy applies will depend on the facts of the particular case at issue. Dog owners should take care to purchase sufficient insurance to fully cover their liability as dog owners.
Homeowner’s Insurance (or Renter’s Insurance)
Many homeowner’s insurance policies cover liability arising from dog bite claims – in fact, dog bite claims are one of the most common homeowner’s insurance claims. Since payouts average over $30,000 per claim and have been rising rapidly, however, homeowner’s insurance companies are becoming increasingly reluctant to cover dog bites. If you are a homeowner, closely check the terms of your policy before jumping to any conclusions.
Important exceptions are common in policies that do cover dog bite liability. Depending on its terms, a homeowner’s insurance policy might refuse to cover a dog bite based on one or more of the following exceptions:
- Breed exclusions: Certain breeds that have developed a reputation for aggressiveness, such as Rottweilers, are often excluded from coverage.
- The “one bite” rule: A homeowner’s insurance policy might refuse to cover a bite from a dog that has bitten before, on the reasoning that the risk of a bite from a dog that is known to be aggressive is too great to justify coverage.
- Exclusion for “dangerous” or “vicious” dogs: A homeowner’s insurance policy might deny coverage of bites from dogs that have been legally declared “dangerous” or “vicious” by a court or an animal control authority.
- Location exclusion: Although many homeowner’s insurance policies cover dog bite liability arising from bites that occur outside the owner’s property, some policies contain specific exclusions based on the place where the bite occurred.
Some car insurance policies cover dog bites that occurred inside the owner’s vehicle, or dog bites that occurred from the owner’s vehicle (a dog bites a pedestrian through an open car window, for example). The policy may cover one or both of the foregoing scenarios.
Dog Bite Insurance
A dog owner’s insurance may be inadequate because it excludes coverage for all dog bites, because the dog owner falls within a coverage exclusion (the dog has already bitten once, for example), or because the liability limits are inadequate. Under such circumstances, the dog owner must purchase additional insurance to cover his liability. A homeowner’s insurance company, for example, might be willing to plug up its own exclusions by selling a dog owner an umbrella policy, or it might be willing to raise its liability limits for an additional premium. Otherwise, a dog owner might purchase a canine liability insurance policy that is designed especially for dog owners.
Persuading an insurance company to pay a dog bite claim can be tricky business, since insurance companies make their money by denying claims, not by paying them. An experienced dog bite lawyer could help you negotiate a settlement or even file a lawsuit if necessary.