If your dog bites someone, you could be on the financial hook for medical bills and other out-of-pocket losses stemming from the incident. And if the person who was bitten decides to file a personal injury lawsuit against you, they may try to recover compensation for things like pain and suffering, which can translate into a significant amount of money.
Fortunately, a number of types of insurance coverage may apply to an incident in which your dog bites or otherwise injures someone. Let's take a look at some possibilities of where you might turn for coverage.
Your Homeowners’ Insurance Policy
Most homeowners' insurance policies provide liability coverage for dog bites and other injuries caused by an animal, unless the dog has been specifically excluded as a dangerous or restricted breed. Breeds that are often specifically excluded from homeowners' insurance policies include pit bills, Rottweilers and Dobermans due to their perceived (whether fair or not) tendency for being dangerous.
A typical homeowners’ insurance policy sets liability limits at $100,000 to $300,000, but your exact coverage will be listed on your policy declaration page. If a visitor to your home or property is bitten or is otherwise injured by your dog, this liability coverage will take care of the injured person's medical expenses, their property damage, and other losses stemming from the incident. And if a personal injury lawsuit is filed, your insurance company will defend your case, including paying for a lawyer. But keep in mind that any damages in excess of policy limits will be your responsibility. So if you have $100,000 in coverage, and the jury awards the dog bite victim $200,000, you'll be on the legal hook for $100,000.
It's important to note that many insurance companies will only cover the first claim filed after an injury incident involving a specific dog, and then decline to cover any subsequent claims connected with the animal. The rationale is that a dog who has already bitten someone has shown a propensity for dangerous behavior and poses an increased risk of biting again. So, the next time the dog bites someone, the homeowners’ insurance policy may specifically exclude coverage, and the homeowner will be on the hook for any damages.
Even when a dog bites or otherwise injures someone off of the owner's property (at the local park, for example), the dog owner's homeowners' insurance policy may still cover the incident. Check the language of your homeowners' policy.
Other Types of Insurance
In certain circumstances, a dog bite claim may be covered by another type of insurance besides homeowners’ coverage. For example, if your dog was in your car and bit someone through the open window, or if your dog was in the back of your pick-up truck when it jumped on someone, then your car insurance policy may cover the claim. (Remember that your homeowners' policy could still apply here too. Chances are the two insurers would each point the finger at one another in an effort to avoid paying the claim.)
Animal or pet insurance is another type of insurance that may cover a dog bite claim where homeowners’ insurance does not. Some pet owners opt to purchase animal insurance specifically to protect against losses caused by their pets, but pet insurance, like homeowners insurance, will likely only cover the first instance where a dog injures someone.
A dog owner’s renters’ insurance may also cover a dog bite claim, as the dog owners, not landowners, are responsible for the dog bite. Landlords are typically not held liable for dog bites on their rental property, unless they were aware of the dog’s propensity to bite, or their negligence played a role in causing the incident.
Learn more about how insurance affects to a personal injury case.