Can Homeowner’s Insurance Refuse to Cover Dog Bites?

insurance coverageHomeowner’s insurance can refuse to cover an insured for dog bites and other damages done by a pet that lives in the covered household if there is an exclusion in the coverage that applies to injury and/or property damage caused by dogs or if there is no legal liability for the bite. You need to check the language of your policy to determine whether or not your policy provides coverage. If it does not and you own a dog that causes another harm, the insurance policy will not cover those damages.

Understanding Liability Under a Homeowner’s Insurance Policy

Homeowner’s insurance is simply a contract of insurance that provides coverage for certain losses that relate to the ownership of a home. The typical homeowner’s insurance policy covers for damage or losses to the home such as fire, wind or hail damage. They often also include liability coverage—which is insurance that pays for any judgment up to a sum certain taken against the homeowner for personal negligent conduct. The typical homeowner’s liability policy will exclude coverage for many things such as injuries caused by the use of an automobile or injuries suffered in the course of business. Some also include liability that arises from the ownership or control of a dog. This is known as a dog liability exclusion.

Why Do Some Homeowner’s Policies Contain Exclusions for Injury by a Dog?

The rates people pay for their insurance is a function of the amount of risk the carrier must take on. The more risk they are taking on of having to pay claims, the more they charge in premiums for the coverage. Each year, insurance carriers pay our over 600 million in claims for injuries caused by dogs. As a result, insurance providers that cover dogs must take into account the anticipated amount of claims they will have to pay. Many providers chose to keep their rates low by not covering dogs at all. Others limit the breeds they will cover to those breeds less likely to cause significant harm in the event of an attack. Others will provide coverage for injury and/or damages caused by dogs, however, the rates may be higher to account for the additional risk.

When an insurance company issues a policy, the applicant is required to answer questions about the home occupants, including pets. Because the insurance company has no way to know what pets a homeowner may acquire later, the carrier may put an exclusion that applies to any dogs not disclosed at the time of application or they may exclude dogs altogether.

Do I Need to Tell My Homeowner’s Insurance if I Get a Dog After Obtaining a Policy?

Yes. If you acquire a dog, the best way to ensure it is covered under your homeowner’s policy is to call and ask your insurance agent. Then, follow it up in writing so that you document that you disclosed the dog to your agent and requested that coverage be confirmed. Failure to disclose the dog may result in you not learning of an exclusion either in the original contract or added by addendum later.

How Can I Tell if There is a Dog Liability Exclusion in My Policy?

If your homeowner’s insurance policy contains a dog liability exclusion, you can find it by looking at your policy under the Liability Insurance section. Usually, towards the end of this section, it will have a list of exclusions. You should carefully read the language of any exclusion that references animals. Dog liability exclusions take many different forms. Some address only certain breeds while others focus on only certain conduct such as prior bites. Still, some broadly exclude all types of animal claims. Read your policy carefully and if you still are not sure, discuss it with a personal injury attorney that handles dog bite claims.

What Should I Do to Protect Myself if My Policy Excludes Dog Bite Liability?

If your policy contains an exclusion for dog liability and you own a dog, you have several options. First, call your agent and ask if they can issue a policy that does cover dog liability. If your insurance carrier does not do this, you should consider switching insurance carriers. Second, if you do not have coverage and do not want to switch homeowner’s carriers, you can always go online and purchase dog liability insurance also known as canine liability insurance. Canine liability policies are insurance coverage just for dogs. It protects the owner in the event that the dog causes injury or property damage to someone else.

If There is No Liability Exclusion, Must Homeowner’s Insurance Pay a Dog Bite Claim?

Even if there is no exclusion, under a liability insurance policy, the injured victim must still prove that the dog owner is legally liable. Depending upon what state you are in, you may need to prove negligent handling on the part of the owner, that there has been a prior action demonstrating that the dog is aggressive towards people of which the owner is aware, or you may just need to prove ownership or control. This is because some states impose strict liability for dog bites upon the owner while others enforce the one-bite rule and/or require a showing of negligence. For more information on these areas of law, please visit our dog bite liability page.