Is My Dog Bite Covered by Homeowners Insurance?
It is no secret that Americans love dogs. Data from the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) shows that more than 38% of households in the country own one.
Pet ownership, however, comes with its own responsibilities. If your dog unexpectedly attacks and injures another animal or person, you can be held responsible – depending on the circumstances that led to the attack – for the injuries suffered by the victim. So, it is very important for you to know if your homeowner’s insurance covers dog bite claims.
Does Your Homeowners Insurance Policy Cover Dog Bite Claims?
Generally, homeowners insurance covers liabilities arising from dog bites, which means if your dog bites and injures someone, your insurance provider will pay for the costs associated with the treatment as well as the loss of earnings caused as a result of the injuries suffered by the victim.
Most insurance companies, however, have a list of dog breeds which are considered too dangerous for coverage. These may include:
- Pit Bulls
- Presa Canarios
- Doberman Pinschers
- German Shepherds
- Alaskan Malamutes
- Wolf Hybrids
If you happen to own one of these dogs, one of the following three things might happen:
- You might find it hard to buy homeowners insurance, as some companies might reject your application simply for owning one of the breeds listed above.
- You might be offered a policy which does not cover the liabilities arising from dog bites.
- You might be offered a regular homeowners insurance policy which covers dog bite claims – at a much higher cost compared to what someone who owns a Labrador or a Beagle pays.
Dog Bite Claims in Virginia
Under Virginia law, a dog owner can be held liable for the injuries caused to the victim by the dog only under the following circumstances:
Prior Knowledge of the Dog’s Aggressive Nature
If your dog attacks and injures someone for the very first time, you might not be held liable for the resulting injuries and damages since you had no idea that your dog was dangerous and could not have prevented the attack. There is, however, an exception to this rule, which is explained in the second point.
If, on the other hand, your dog attacks and injures someone for the second or subsequent time, you can be held liable for the resulting damages, since you already knew that your dog was aggressive and dangerous and still failed to take the necessary safety measures.
This is the exception to the first rule. Even if your dog has never behaved in an aggressive manner or attacked someone, you can still be held liable for the injuries suffered by the victim if they can prove that you failed to use due care in keeping your dog under control.
For example, if you fail to put a leash on your dog and if it jumps over the fence and attacks someone on the street, you can be held liable for the resulting injuries since you could have avoided the attack by leashing your dog.
If the victim is able to prove in court that you had prior knowledge of your dog’s aggressive nature or if you were negligent and failed in your duty as a responsible dog owner, they are eligible to receive compensatory damages from your insurance provider – depending on the extent of their injuries and the amount of wages they lost as a result of their injuries.
The Concept of Contributory Negligence
Not all victims of dog bites are eligible to file a claim and recover damages. In some cases, the victim’s claim might be rejected based on a legal theory known as contributory negligence.
For instance, if the victim trespassed into your property despite noticing the prominently displayed ‘Beware of Dog’ sign, they may be determined to be at least partially to blame for their injuries. Similarly, if the victim tried to provoke your dog in any way, they would share at least some of the responsibility for their injuries.
Virginia is one of a handful of states which bars victims of dog bites from recovering damages from the at-fault party, if it is proven that they – in some way – contributed to their own injuries. So, if you can establish in court that the victim’s actions caused your dog to attack them, the victim will not be able to recover any damages – either from you or your insurance provider.
Steps You Can Take to Reduce the Risk of Dog Bites
- Put up a large ‘Beware of Dog’ sign at the front gate.
- Always keep your dog leashed when you walk it.
- If you notice any change in your dog’s behavior – if it is aggressive or if it refuses to obey your commands – take it to a veterinarian immediately and get it checked for injuries, diseases, or conditions that might be causing the change in behavior. You can also hire an animal behaviorist to train your dog and keep its aggression in check.
Dog Bite Claim Lawyers in Virginia
Sometimes, a dog bite may be at least partially the fault of the individual who was attacked. In other cases, the dog owner is entirely responsible. If you or a loved one was attacked by a dog, the attorneys at Buck, Toscano, & Tereskerz Ltd are here to help. We have many years of experience successfully pursuing dog bite claims, and we can meet with you to review your case and assess your legal rights and options. To schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team, message us online or call us today at 434-977-7977.