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Who Pays for Animal Bites?

Sometimes, a person injured by a dog bite (or any other animal bite) doesn't want to bring legal action against the animal's owner. Most people worry that the dog owner, and sometimes their neighbor, will face economic hardship if they do. Other people worry about getting animal control involved, in case the dog gets labeled as a dangerous dog.

It may ease your mind to know that in many cases, the animal owner doesn't pay anything. Their insurance company will cover the expenses of a dog attack legal claim, with some exceptions. This includes the resulting settlement or judgment. The type of insurance triggered depends on where the dog bite incident occurred.

This article discusses animal bites, what you should consider if there is an animal bite incident, and how a victim gets paid for their personal injuries.

Animal Bites and Homeowners Insurance

In most instances, an animal owner's homeowners insurance policy will cover liability arising from dog bites (and injuries caused by other common household pets) that occur on the owner's property. According to the Insurance Information Institute, there were about 17,597 homeowners insurance claims involving dog bites in 2022, averaging $64,555 per claim.

The average amount of liability coverage in homeowners policies is between $100,000 and $300,000. Insurance companies usually only cover the first time a dog bites. This is because many homeowners policies have language that excludes any subsequent claims. Certain insurance companies refuse to cover specific breeds of dogs, such as Pit Bulls or Rottweilers.

Keep in mind that some homeowners insurance policies reduce coverage for dog attacks that occur away from the home. For example, some policies exclude injuries connected to vehicles. If someone walks their dog at the local park, and the dog bites someone, then insurance covers the injuries. Yet if that same dog bites someone through the window of a car, then these policies would not cover the claim.

Dog Bite Cases and Renters Insurance

Renters insurance policies cover personal injury cases that occur on rented private property. These policies are like homeowners insurance policies except the policyholder does not own the home. In these situations, the renter would use this policy to cover property damage or medical attention the dog bite victim needed.

Sometimes the landlord is liable in a dog bite case. If they knew their renter's dog was dangerous and allowed it to stay on the private property, you can also recover from them.

Dog Bite Injuries and Car Insurance

Even if a homeowners insurance policy does not cover a dog bite that occurs in a car, an owner's automobile insurance may cover a claim. While a dog bite case is not like a car accident, often automobile insurance will cover an animal bite that occurred in a car. If the animal is in the back of a pickup truck when they injure a dog bite victim, then the auto insurance policy may apply to the incident.

When this happens, both homeowners and automobile insurance companies will usually argue that the other company is responsible for covering the loss. In most cases, this argument does not involve the injured person but is a matter for the insurance companies to resolve. This is why it is helpful to seek legal advice from a lawyer and let them handle these procedural issues.

Animal Attacks and Animal Insurance

There are specialty insurance companies that provide insurance for pet owners and their animals. Many insurance companies refuse to cover animal bites after one incident or if the dog is an excluded breed. As a result, the owners of these pets often have no choice but to look for coverage from an insurance company specializing in animal coverage. The premiums for these policies are higher. But these policies give the pet owner peace of mind.

Animal Bites in the Absence of Insurance Coverage

Even if a dog owner does not have insurance that covers animal bites, you are still entitled to bring a legal claim against the owner to recover damages. If you feel reluctant to bring such an injury claim, keep in mind that if you do not, you bear the losses alone. This means you or your loved one, and not the person responsible for your injury, pays for your damages. These damages include your medical bills, lost income while injured, emotional distress, and earning capacity. If you suffered any type of disfigurement, you will have to pay those expensive medical expenses and medical treatments out of pocket too.

Dog Bite Liability Burden of Proof

Most states have dog bite statutes found in civil codes that determine who is liable and what would be the burden of proof to succeed in a dog bite case. You'll want to check the dog bite laws of your state for more details.

  • Strict Liability: A majority of states are strict liability states. In those areas, a dog owner is strictly liable for their dog's bite. It does not matter if they were aware of the aggressive nature of the dog. In these states, the victim does not have the burden of proving that the injury was the result of the owner's negligence. This means that, even if the dog had never bitten anyone in the past, the owner of the dog will need to pay for the injuries caused by the dog. Some states like California have exceptions and do not allow compensation to someone who was trespassing.
  • One Bite Rule: Some states have a one bite rule. These states like Virginia give a dog one free bite before finding the owner responsible for the injured person. There are some exceptions to this rule, such as if the dog owner knew their dog was dangerous but did not take any steps to protect the public from their dog.

You will need to read the laws in your state's jurisdiction to know your legal rights. One of those rights is the length of time you have after the animal attack—even if it is a wrongful death—to file a lawsuit. It can be as little as a year after the injury or up to three years. This is a statute of limitations, and each state determines its timeline.

Contact a Dog Bite Lawyer for Your Dog Bite Claim

If a dog bites you, explore your legal options with a dog bite attorney. Dog bite attorneys are personal injury lawyers. They work to make sure you know who to sue to have your serious injuries paid for. Contact a local personal injury attorney by calling their phone number or sending an email today.

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