Home Insurance and Dog Bites
Dogs are the most popular pet in the United States, with nearly 70 percent of all households owning at least one dog. That is more than 90 million households that own one or more dogs. While dogs are the most common pet for a reason, they are not without their risks. In fact, according to the most recent data from the Insurance Information Institute, in 2020, insurance companies paid out more than $850 million in claims stemming from dog-related injuries. At the law firm of Briskman Briskman & Greenberg, our Chicago dog bite lawyers help victims of vicious animal attacks obtain fair compensation for their injuries. For more than 35 years, Briskman Briskman & Greenberg has helped thousands of clients recover the compensation they need to begin the process of moving on with their lives after suffering traumatic and often life-changing injuries.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Dog Bites?
Generally speaking, homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies cover dog bite liability claims. However, these policies only cover a victim’s injuries up to the liability limit of the policy. For example, if homeowner has a $100,000 insurance policy, the insurance company would cover up to $100,000 in damages stemming from a dog bite. However, if an accident victim’s injuries exceed the limit of the homeowner’s policy, then the homeowner is individually liable for the excess damages. That is, unless the homeowner purchased specific dog bite liability insurance.
While homeowners’ insurance policies typically cover dog-related injuries, some dog owners find it difficult to obtain insurance based on the breed of dog they own. This is because, in recent years, insurance companies have taken a bit hit when it comes to dog bite insurance claims. For example, in 2020, there were almost 17,000 claims based on dog-related injuries. The average cost per claim in 2020 was $50,425, a 12 percent increase from 2019 and a 162 percent increase from 2003. In total, these claims required insurance companies to pay out $854 million.
In Illinois, specifically, insurance companies resolved 732 dog bite claims in 2020, totaling $35.5 million. That’s about $48,433 per claim.
There are a few ways insurance companies handle homeowners with potentially dangerous dogs.
- An insurance company may refuse to write policies for families who own certain breeds of dogs.
- An insurance company reviews a homeowner’s application on a case-by-case basis.
- An insurance company may not ask about the breed of dog, but increase rates, refuse to renew a policy or exclude the dog from future coverage if the dog bites someone.
Regardless, pet owners generally pay more for homeowners’ insurance coverage, which may lead them to purchase a lower-cost, lower-limit policy. However, this can raise issues, both from the homeowner’s perspective, as well as anyone who is attacked by their dog because a lower-limit policy is less likely to fully cover a dog bite victim’s expenses. This can expose homeowners to personal liability and put dog bite victims in the position of trying to collect a judgment against a homeowner who may not have the assets to satisfy the judgment.
How Common Are Dog Bites?
While the insurance figures show that there were more than 17,000 claims filed after dog-related injuries, the true number of dog bites appears to be much higher. For example, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association,5 more than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year, resulting in 800,000 people requiring medical attention. About half of all dog bite victims are children.
Common Dog Bite Injuries
The average homeowners’ insurance claim for dog bite injuries is about $48,000. If this figure seems high, it’s because these claims provide compensation to dog bite victims for the injuries they sustain in the attack. Damages in a dog bite lawsuit include as well as for their medical expenses, lost wages and other non-economic damages, such as pain and suffering, permanent disfigurement, and loss of enjoyment of life.
Dog bite victims face excruciatingly painful injuries that are often very serious. For example, some of the most common dog bite injuries include:
- Cuts and lacerations;
- Torn ligaments;
- Injuries to the face;
- Permanent scarring and disfigurement
- Broken bones or fractures; and
- Nerve damage.
Additionally, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association, about one in five dog bites becomes infected. Dogs carry foreign bacteria in their mouths, which can result in a potentially life-threatening situation, even if a wound is properly cared for. The most common infections after a dog bite include:
- Capnocytophaga spp.
The following symptoms may indicate an infection:
- Blisters around the affected area;
- Muscle or joint pain;
- Redness, swelling, draining pus, or pain at the bite wound;
- Stomach pain; and
Additionally, dog bite victims often suffer severe psychological trauma after an attack. While every victim’s brain and body react differently, this may result in depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder. These conditions are often a direct result of a dog bite attack and can stay with a victim for years, if not longer.
Bringing a Dog Bite Claim Against a Pet Owner
When a dog bites a person, the victim of the attack can pursue a personal injury case against the animal’s owner. States have different laws when it comes to dog bite liability for homeowners.
Strict Liability Dog Bite Statutes
Strict liability is a legal concept under which the victim of a dog bite does not need to prove that the animal’s owner was negligent. In other words, dog owners are automatically liable for any injuries inflicted by their pets. Currently, there are about 29 states that have strict liability dog bite statutes on the books. However, even in these states, pet owners may have a defense if the victim provoked the dog or was trespassing at the time of the attack.
On the opposite end of the spectrum from strict liability states are those states that use the traditional negligence analysis to assess dog bite cases. In these states, the dog bite victim must prove that the animal’s owner owed them a duty of care, violated that duty, and that the breach of the duty owed to the victim resulted in their injuries. Under a traditional negligence analysis, things such as the predisposition of the dog, whether it was on a leash or in a fenced yard, and whether the owner displayed a warning sign are all relevant considerations.
The “One Bite Rule”
The one bite rule is a bit of a hybrid between strict liability and traditional negligence. States that rely on the one bite rule typically find animal owners liable only when they have reason to know that their dog is dangerous. Of course, the most common example is if a dog has bitten someone in the past. So, under the one bite rule, a dog owner usually isn’t liable for injuries caused by a dog that has no history of aggression. However, once the owner is on notice that their dog is dangerous, any injuries caused by the dog become the owner’s responsibility.
Breed Specific Laws
In addition, more local governments are passing breed specific laws. A breed specific law is one that only applies to a certain breed of dog. For example, some breed specific laws prohibit ownership of certain breeds while others impose other rules and restrictions on those who decide to keep animals of certain breeds. Pit bulls are almost always included in breed specific laws; however, some laws include other breeds as well. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, more than 700 cities have breed specific laws.9 The problem with these laws, however, is that they fail to focus on tracking all types of dangerous dogs and only focus on certain breeds. It is on this basis that the Centers for Disease Control does not support breed specific legislation.
Illinois Dog Bite Laws
Illinois has a strict liability dog bite law; however, there are a few exceptions. Generally, if a dog bites or attacks a person, the owner is strictly liable. Only in the following situations will Illinois courts apply the traditional negligence analysis instead of strict liability:
- The victim was trespassing at the time they were attacked or bitten;
- The victim was not peaceably conducting themselves at the time they were attacked or bitten; or
- The victim was trespassing at the time they were attacked or bitten.
If a dog owner proves any of these facts, then their actions will be assessed under a traditional negligence analysis.
Still, while Illinois dog bite law is overall favorable to victims, recovering full and fair compensation after an attack is not always as easy as victims hope. This is because, in most cases, the party defending against their claim is the animal owner’s insurance company. Homeowners insurance policies typically cover dog bites and other dog-related injuries, even if they occur away from the home. And while the availability of insurance is a good thing in that it ensures adequate assets to cover any judgment a victim obtains; insurance companies can be challenging to deal with. For example, an insurance company may argue that a dog bite victim provoked the animal or challenge the extent of a victim’s injuries in hopes of getting them to accept a lower settlement offer. For this reason, most dog bite victims choose to work with an experienced Chicago dog bite lawyer.
Talk with a Knowledgeable Dog Bite Lawyer at Briskman Briskman & Greenberg About Your Injuries
If you or a loved one was recently the victim of a dog bite or attack, reach out to the personal injury lawyers at Briskman Briskman & Greenberg today. At Briskman Briskman & Greenberg, our Chicago dog bite lawyers have decades of experience helping victims obtain meaningful compensation for their injuries. We also offer all prospective clients a free case evaluation during which we will answer all of your questions about the recovery process. If you decide to bring a case against the dog’s owner, we will not bill you for any of our services unless and until we can recover compensation on your behalf. That’s just one part of the Briskman Guarantee we make to each of our clients. To learn more, and to schedule your free consultation with a Chicago dog bite attorney today, call 877-595-4878. You can also reach us through our online contact form.