Dog Bites and Homeowners' Insurance

There are an estimated 80 million dogs owned as pets in this country. Of those, about 6 percent are involved in some type of biting incident every year. That works out to many millions of dollars’ worth of hospital bills, lost productivity and wages and other expenses.

So who foots the bill for all this?

In many cases, it is the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance or renters’ insurance. However, it is possible that some policies outright exclude dogs (or have a “one-bite” exclusions or breed-specific exclusions) or lack adequate limits for the victim. If dog owners are smart and don’t want to be personally on-the-hook, they will in these instances secure umbrella coverage, excess coverage or some type of canine liability policy.

Dog owners who fail to obtain adequate insurance coverage are at risk of bankruptcy and loss of their home and other assets if their canine bites and seriously injures someone.

The Fort Lauderdale dog bite injury lawyers at The Ansara Law Firm are committed to ascertaining the best avenue for obtaining compensation for our injured clients.

Florida Dog Owner Liability

The American Pet Products Association estimates 55 million U.S. households have at least one dog, and many have more than one.

Florida dog owners are strictly liable for the injuries their dogs cause in a bite or attack. F.S. 767.04 holds that any person who is bitten either in a public place or while lawfully in a private place is entitled to collect damages.

There is a comparative negligence provision indicating dog bite victims who in any way contributed to the aggression or bite (i.e., teasing or harassing the dog) will have their damage award reduced comparatively. However, that fact alone won’t prohibit the person from being able to pursue damages.

Do Homeowners’ Insurance Policies Usually Cover Dog Bites?

Many homeowners’ insurance and renters’ insurance policies in Fort Lauderdale and elsewhere in Florida do cover dog bite injuries. In fact, the Insurance Information Institute (III) reports that:

  • Dog-related injuries accounted for one-third of all homeowner insurance liability claims.
  • Homeowner insurance companies paid more than $570 million in dog bite injury claims in 2015.
  • The average cost-per-claim rose by 16 percent recently – and a whopping 94 percent from 2003 to 2015.
  • The average cost per dog bite claim in 2015 was $37,200.
  • The estimated number of dog bite claims nationally was approximately 15,300 in 2015.

Part of the recent uptick in claim costs have to do with rising medical costs.

But our Fort Lauderdale lawyers should note that many insurers are seeking to limit their exposure and reduce legal expenses. Most policies as it is typically limit liability at somewhere between $100,000 and $300,000. If the claim is higher than that limit, than the dog’s owner is responsible for whatever the excess, unless he or she has umbrella coverage or excess coverage or some type of specific canine liability policy.

While some insurers don’t inquire about the type of breed or track the dogs involved in these incidents, that is beginning to change.

An increasing number of insurance companies have breed-specific exclusions for breeds of dogs known to be overrepresented in bite statistics, including Rottweilers, pit bulls and German Shepherds. Others require homeowners to sign a liability waiver for dogs. In some cases, insurers are offering a “one-bite exclusion.” That is, the insurer will cover a homeowner the first time a dog bites, but not the second time. Insurers are also offering plans where they will only cover a dog if it has undergone behavioral training or is restrained by a leash or with a muzzle. Increasingly, homeowner insurance plans aren’t offering coverage of dog bites at all.

Renters are far less likely to carry insurance than homeowners, but insurers often do ask about the presence of a dog whether the insured is renting or owns.

When Dog Owners Don’t Have Insurance

When dog owners do not have any type of insurance that may cover the victim’s injuries, recovery of damages gets harder. In most cases, as our Fort Lauderdale attorneys recognize, the medical bills alone are far in excess of what most people can afford to pay. For example, reports some severe dog bite attacks can result in injuries that result in medical bills of $250,000 or more. Victims may require painful reconstructive surgeries and treatments. In fact, an average of 27,000 people undergo reconstructive surgery every year due to attacks by dogs, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

For dog owners without insurance some possible options for victims include:

  • Suing the dog owner for recovery of damage via assets . If the dog owner owns a home or other property, these assets could be seized and sold to cover the damage award to the victim.
  • Suing the landlord. This is a scenario we would look at if the dog owner was a renter who lacked adequate insurance. In some cases, landlords can be liable for dog bite injuries that occur on their property if they were in some way negligent or had some degree of control over the animal.
  • Suing someone other than the owner who may be legally liable. This could include a friend or ex who co-owns the dog or a rescue group that issued a faulty contract that stipulates they are still actually the legal owner.

You may also get some relief from your health insurance carrier or, if you were working at the time of the injury, from your workers’ compensation insurer.

In some cases, a dog owner without insurance will see the type of liability they are facing and, not wishing to be at-risk for bankruptcy, will agree to work out a settlement. You should not agree to such a contract without the assistance of an experienced injury lawyer.

Call the injury attorneys at The Ansara Law Firm at (877) 277-3780 or locally in Broward at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties.

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