Are you really sure you are covered? Homeowner's and Renter's insurance Policies and Dog Bites

Posted by William K. Thayer | Aug 06, 2019 | 0 Comments

Are you a dog owner?  If so, it might be a good idea to read or re-read your insurance policy. 

As our prior blogs have discussed, even the nicest dogs occasionally bite, and when they do, the results can be ugly – including not just the original wound, but from the potential for complicated infections or scarring residuals that may result from the bite.

This is what inspired me to write this blog: I saw a recent email on a listserve from an attorney.  His email explained that the owner of a dog that caused significant bite injuries to his client had a renter's insurance policy.  The dog owner's renter's insurance policy had a significant bodily injury liability limit, but the policy also had an “Animal Liability Limitation Endorsement” that purported to limit all damages from animal bite to only $10,000 per occurrence.  That is something that in 38 plus years of practice I had never seen before in a homeowner's or renter's insurance policy.  Wow.

Think about the reasons you have insurance.  It is in part to protect you in case you may be found liable for harm that occurs to another attributable to you.  You don't want to, if you unfortunately happen to accidentally make a mistake, or your dog bites somebody, end up having to pay cash out of your bank account to pay off the injured person, sell your car or house, or have your wages be garnished for years on end because you couldn't satisfy a tort judgment entered against you arising from the injury.  Do you?

Liability for dog bites in Washington is pretty much a given.  Responsible Dog Ownership ; Oregon Dog Bite Law .  There is significant risk of being found to be at fault if you are a dog owner or possessor who lives in Oregon as well.  When Man's Best Friend Bites .

Historically, our homeowners and rental policies covered these exposures up to the bodily injury liability limits listed on the face of our insurance declarations pages.  But it appears that some insurers are starting to limit their coverages now.  So make sure you know what is in your policy. 

Especially if you have a dog.  Because dog bites, particularly if they lead to a staph infection or end up causing disfiguring scars on the person bitten, can result in a large exposure – sometimes in the $100,000 range or even more.

So, to recap – if you don't have sufficient insurance coverage, you could be on the hook personally for any damages caused by your dog's bite.  Don't let that be a risk you unwittingly live with.  Instead, take the time to read yourself (or to have an attorney review) your homeowner's or renter's insurance policy and endorsements carefully, and if it contains provisions that would reduce your coverage below the bodily injury liability limits that you thought you had bargained for – just because the cause of the claim is a dog bite – then switch to an insurer who hasn't tried to sneak such a limiting endorsement into your policy.  Make sure you have in effect an insurance company and policy that will protect you when you need it.

About the Author

William K. Thayer

Bill Thayer is one of the founding partners of the Schauermann Thayer Jacobs Staples & Edwards law firm. Bill is licensed in both Oregon and Washington, and actively practiced law from 1980 to 2021. He is now "of counsel" with Schauermann Thayer and serves as an arbitrator when appointed by the courts or litigants. During his more than 40 years of active law practice, Bill advised and represented clients in personal injury and wrongful death claims and litigation, including automobile collision, motorcycle, bicycle, and pedestrian injury and death cases, dog bite cases, construction site injury claims, and a myriad of other types of injury and death claims. While many claims were settled through negotiation or mediation, Mr. Thayer litigated, arbitrated and/or tried to verdict many cases for his clients. He continues to occasionally be appointed by courts and other lawyers to serve as an arbitrator of tort claims. Bill enjoys writing as one of his varied recreational interests when he is not working.


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