Mans Best Friend

There are more than 78 million people who own a dog in the US.  That is 78 million dog owners who could potentially be, or have been, a defendant in a dog bite liability case.  Although the consequences may vary, the fact remains that dog bites are costly.  It is also a fact that medical bills, property damage, and litigation fees cost a great deal more than the premium to insure against a dog bite. If you have liability coverage on your home insurance policy and your dog bites or injures someone, in many cases your insurance company will defend you in a lawsuit.  With that said, there are certain stipulations involved in determining coverage.

Most insurers have very strict rules surrounding which breeds they will and will not insure.  All companies have a published list of these restricted breeds that you can obtain.  Here are some things you should know if you own a breed of dog that is on the policy exclusion list.Although this list varies from company to company most will exclude Rottweiler’s, Pit Bulls, German Shepherds and Mastiffs from coverage.  This, however, does not mean that if you own one of these breeds you are uninsurable.    The Massachusetts Property Underwriting Association will insure your home and your dog,provided that your dog does not have any previous biting history.   If your pooch has bitten someone the insurance company will insure your home exclude your dog from coverage.  The cost for a Mass Property policy is typically about one third higher than a policy purchased in the standard insurance market.

Some companies will look at the dogs on a case by case basis.  For example, if you can provide proof that your dog has had certain types of obedience training they may agree to offer coverage even if your dog’s breed appears on the exclusion list.  There is usually an extra questionnaire that they want completed at the time of application as well.  Standard questions you may need to answer could include:

  • How you obtained the dog
  • If there are any children in the home
  • How the dog is restrained when in public
  • How close your home is to the nearest playground or school

If you are a landlord you should screen tenants who have animals to ensure that they do not own an excluded dog breed. Even though you as the landlord do not own the dog, your insurance carrier can still deny coverage if a tenant owns a dog which appears on the list.

Generally, the legal rule is to hold the dog owner responsible for dog-bite injuries, rather than the landlord. However, landlords can be held responsible for dog bite injuries that happen on their rental properties if they are found to be negligent in some way.If you are a landlord, you should monitor your properties and remove or evict nuisance or aggressive dogs. Your liability exposure could be increased as well if you were aware of the presence of a prohibited breed on your rental property and took no action or inadequate action to prevent a possible claim.

For the most part, dogs are a loving and dependable member of the family.  However, even the sweetest most docile dog can bite if they feel threatened or scared. You should make certain that your pet is properly cared for, trained and restrained when out in public to protect you and your family from a potential lawsuit.

Call us today to make certain your homeowner’s policy includes liability coverage for your Best Friend.