Home Owners And Dog Bites

A lot of people in Fort Worth, Arlington, Colleyville, North Richland Hills, Keller, Roanoke, Azle, Aledo, Weatherford, Dallas, Grand Prairie, and other places in Texas own dogs. So, what does it matter?
Here is one answer to that question. It could result in your homeowners insurance being cancelled or at the least, it might result in increased premiums for your homeowners insurance policy unless you get rid of the dog. The type of dog will also make a difference in whether or not it affects you.
The Palm Beach Post ran an article back on August 6, 2010. The article was written by Laura Green and is titled, “Insurers Turning Down Coverge For Homeowners With ‘Bully’ Dog Breeds.”
The article reports that every year, more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs, and nearly 900,000 of them, half of whom are children, require medical care. This according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The relevance of these statistics for the homeowners who want homeowners insurance is that when a dog bite victim needs to pay medical bills, he often seeks payment from the dog owner’s homeowners policy. Taking this into account, the total amount of claims paid out nationally has risen nearly 20 percent between 2003 and 2008.
The Palm Beach Post writer tells us that dog bites account for a third of all homeowners insurance liability claims, costing $387 million in 2008, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Also, more than half of bites occur on the dog owners property.
Owners of Pit Bulls, including Staffordshire Terriers, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Chows, Presa Canarios, Akitas, Huskies, and Wolf hybrids cannot get homeowners, condo and renters policies through the Allstate subsidiary, Castle Key, who writes policies in Florida. This situation is the same in many other states. The company United Property & Casualty Insurance excludes the same dogs as Castle Key plus German Sheperds, American Eskimos or any mixed breed that is half or more of any of the banned breeds.
The insurance company, State Farm Insurance, ignores breed and focuses on a survey dog owners must fill out before they are approved. The form asks whether their dog has a history of bites and if so what measures the owner has taken, such as obedience classes or a fence, to prevent the animal from attacking again.
Many insurance companies think it is a mistake and short-sighted to single out a breed of dog and take the approach of State Farm Insurance. They focus on the dog’s history and the owners rather than a breed of dog. A great example of this would be some of the dogs that most people consider dangerous such as Pit Bulls, German Shepherds, etc., which are trained as service dogs or therapy dogs. These dogs can be great companions and represent minimal threat or no threat to others.
The concern for homeowners insurance companies is the costs associated with claims related to dog bites. According to statistics the average payout on a dog bite is $24,461. Jury awards and high medical costs can carry a serious bite case to $1 million, obviously a high risk to these insurers.
The general scenario in a dog bite case is one where the dog who has never bitten anyone before, bites a visitor to the house. The visitor could be a service man such as a plumber or a neighbor or a relative who is at the house. Occasionally the dog bite results from a kid or kids teasing the dog. In any event, the owner of a dog who bites who does not have a previous history of bites or danger to others will be liable for medical bills, lost wages, disfigurement, impairment, plus mental and physical pain and suffering.
The owner of a dog who has a history of bites or aggression will be liable for the above plus may be liable for punitive or exemplary damages. In Texas the standard for recovery of exemplary damages is found in the Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code, Chapter 41.
Exemplary damages can be very costly for an insurer.
Because of the dollar costs that can result from dog bites, it is very important that a homeowner or any owner of a dog be insured. Read the insurance policy and make sure it covers dog bites and that the policy does not exclude coverage for the type of dog you may own.
Consulting with an experienced Insurance Law Attorney whenever you find yourself the victim of a dog bite or the owner of a dog who has bitten is vital to making sure your rights are protected, regardless of what the insurance policy may say.