Did you know that the number one cause of liability lawsuits against homeowners is a dog bite lawsuit? It’s true. Dog bites account for 1/3 of all homeowner insurance liability claims. Whether it’s fair or not, most home insurance companies will not consider insuring owners of certain breeds of dogs or mixes of certain breeds. Check with your home insurance carrier before you decide to adopt or buy one of those breeds. Always ask about any dog’s bite/aggression history regardless of its breed. It may not be an aggressive type breed but if it has already bitten someone, it has an aggressive tendency and you should know what you’re getting into before you take the pet home. Here are some facts according about dog owner liability from the Insurance Information Institute:
Dog Owner Liability
Dog owners are liable for any injuries their pets cause in the following instances: if the owner knew the dog had a tendency to cause that kind of injury; if a state statute makes the owner liable, whether or not the owner knew the dog had a tendency to cause that kind of injury; or if the injury was caused by unreasonable carelessness on the part of the owner.
There are three kinds of law that impose liability on owners:
- Dog-bite statute: The dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes, even without provocation.
- “One-bite” rule: In some states, the owner is not held liable for the first bite the dog inflicts. Once an animal has demonstrated vicious behavior, such as biting or otherwise displaying a "vicious propensity", the owner can be held liable. Some states have moved away from the one-bite rule and hold owners responsible for any injury, regardless of whether the animal has previously bitten someone.
- Negligence laws: The dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.
- In some states, dog owners are not liable to trespassers who are injured by a dog. However, a dog owner who is legally responsible for an injury to a person or property may be also responsible for reimbursing the injured person for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and property damage, even if they are a trespasser.
The most effective way to avoid a bite lawsuit (aside from not owning a dog) is to be a responsible dog owner. Here are some tips to reduce the chances of your dog biting someone:
- Consult with a professional (e.g., veterinarian, animal behaviorist, or responsible breeder) to learn about suitable breeds of dogs for your household and neighborhood.
- Spend time with a dog before buying or adopting it. Use caution when bringing a dog into a home with an infant or toddler. A dog with a history of aggression is inappropriate in a household with children.
- Be sensitive to cues that a child is fearful of or apprehensive about a dog and, if so, delay acquiring a dog. Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog.
- Socialize your dog so it knows how to act with other people and animals.
- Discourage children from disturbing a dog that is eating or sleeping.
- Play non-aggressive games with your dog, such as “go fetch.” Playing aggressive games like “tug-of-war” can encourage inappropriate behavior.
- Avoid exposing your dog to new situations in which you are unsure of its response.
- Never approach a strange dog and always avoid eye contact with a dog that appears threatening.
- Immediately seek professional advice from veterinarians, animal behaviorists, or responsible breeders if your dog develops aggressive or undesirable behaviors.