Property Owners and Dog Bite Liability
American households include almost 90 million dogs, according to the American Pet Products Association. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the U.S. Among children, the rate of dog-bite–related injuries is highest for those 5 to 9 years old. Over half of dog-bite injuries occur at home with dogs that are familiar to the victim. So what happens when a dog bites a person and large medical expenses are accrued?
Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability legal expenses, up to the liability limits (typically $100,000 to $300,000). If the claim exceeds the limit, the dog owner is responsible for all damages above that amount. Some insurance companies will not insure homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls. Others decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether an individual dog, regardless of its breed has been deemed vicious.
According to State Farm insurance, homeowners insurers paid out $675 million in liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries in 2018 alone. Because of these large figures, many insurance companies are taking steps to limit exposure to payouts from dog bites. Some companies require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, while others charge more for owners of breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers and others are not offering insurance to dog owners at all. Some will cover a pet if the owner takes the dog to classes aimed at modifying its behavior or if the dog is restrained with a muzzle, chain or cage.
It varies from state-to-state which degree of liability is required for a homeowner to be found responsible for their dog biting someone. In some states, statutes make the owners liable whether or not they knew the dog had a tendency to bite; in others, owners can be held responsible only if they knew or should have known their dogs had a propensity to bite. Some states and municipalities have “breed specific” statutes that identify breeds such as pit bulls as dangerous; in others individual dogs can be designated as vicious.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a dog bite, please do not hesitate to call the Sweeney Law Firm.