Dog Bites and Insurance

Not long ago, the former mayor of Bullhead City, AZ, and her husband, Thomas Vick, were in the news in an unfortunate way. A fight involving their own six dogs that occurred in their Arizona home resulted in the tragic death of Mr. Vick, who bled to death after being bitten in his femoral artery. Only incidentally, the couple was in violation of a city ordinance which limited the number of dogs that could be owned by one household to three.

More recently, two young Phoenix children, siblings aged 3 and 6, were walking home from school when they were attacked by two dogs. The children were taken to a pediatric trauma center where they were both in serious condition. The owner was cited by police for allowing the dogs to escape from his home. Sgt. Timothy Rummel, speaking for the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control (MCACC), reported that the county responds to nearly 6,000 dog bite calls every year.

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), Arizona ranks ninth in the number of dog bite claims submitted to Homeowner’s Insurance and pays more than $22 million every year in dog bite claims across the nation. In 2015, Arizona had the highest payment rate per claim, paying an average of $56,654 for each claim. If you have been bitten by a dog, or a family member has been bitten, a dog bite attorney can assist you in collecting damages and pursuing your insurance claim.

Arizona Law and Dog Bite Liability

Arizona law holds dog owners, or those who are in charge of a dog, strictly liable for dog bites if the victim is in a place he or she has a right to be. This means there is essentially no defense. If the dog bites someone, the owner or handler is responsible for paying damages to the victim. This may include:

  • Medical care.
  • Necessary plastic surgery.
  • Medical care in the future to care for the wounds or scars.
  • Lost wages when it is impossible for the victim to work.
  • Pain and suffering.
  • Loss of enjoyment of life.

The only exception to requiring the dog owner or handler to paying damages to the victim is if the dog owner can prove that the victim provoked the dog.  This is evaluated by the reasonable person standard: Would a reasonable person, knowing all the facts, conclude that the victim’s action rose to a level of provoking the dog.

There are times when others in addition to the owner may be liable for injuries. For example, if a dog walker is walking the dog and the dog breaks free of the leash and bites someone, the dog handler may be liable in addition to the owner. If a landlord knows, or should know, that a dog is present on the property and the dog might be dangerous, the landlord may be held liable.

If you are bitten by a dog, or your child or someone you love was bitten, your first concern is to get medical attention. Your next thought is likely to be how you will pay for those damages. Hopefully, the owner or handler of the dog will have insurance that will pay for your expenses up to the limits of the coverage that was purchased.

Dog Bites and Insurance Coverage

The III reports that homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies generally cover dog bite liability up to the amount of coverage the policy holder has chosen to purchase. This is typically in the amount of $100,000 liability for renters and $300,000 for homeowners.

More than one-third of all claims against homeowner’s or renter’s insurance are for dog bite injuries.

If the dog owner has insurance, and the damages exceed the amount of insurance coverage, the homeowner or renter is liable for paying the remainder.

Many insurers refuse to cover certain dog breeds, such as pit bulls, Rottweilers, Boxers, Doberman Pinchers and others. Fortunately for Arizona residents, Arizona does not have a “dangerous dog” statute and Arizona insurers do not exclude coverage for any breed.

If a dog has bitten someone before, the dog may be excluded from the policy. In some cases, homeowners or renters may pay higher premiums in order to have coverage for their pets who would otherwise be excluded. Insurers may also secure coverage by agreeing to put restrictions on their pet or to take the pet to a behavioral training class.

Settling with the Insurer and How an Attorney Can Help

At a time when you are incurring medical expenses, insurers may offer you a sum of money to settle the case. Taking the money will be very tempting since you need money to pay your medical expenses and may even be losing wages. Be very careful. In exchange for the money, you will be asked to sign a document waiving your right to ever again request any compensation no matter how high your medical expenses are, whether you need plastic surgery or ongoing to care for your wounds.

It is strongly recommended by all experts that you do not speak to a claims adjustor until you have spoken to an attorney. An experienced dog bite attorney will know how to place a value on your case and whether the settlement offer is a fair one.