Liability in a Dog Bite

Your dog may be your best buddy, but he can also become a financial liability if he bites someone.  Dog bite claims account for more than a third of all homeowner’s insurance liability claims paid out.  According to the Insurance Information Institute, the number of claims annually is around 15,000 to 16,000 over the last 10 years.  But the average cost per claim was more than $29,000 in 2011, an increase of 25 percent in eight years, mostly because of increases in medical costs.

California imposes strict liability to dog owners for any damages suffered by any person as the result of a dog bite.  The main feature of this statute is that liability is assigned regardless of the dog’s former showing of vicious tendencies or the owner’s knowledge of the dog’s viciousness.

California Civil Code 3342 (any dog, bite only) states that while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog.  (A person is lawfully upon the private property of such owner within the meaning of this section when he is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when he is on such property upon the invitation, express or implied, of the owner).

The strict liability rule does offer some protection to dog owners.  A dog owner cannot be held responsible if his dog bites someone, if any of the following conditions exist:

  • The person who the dog bit was a trespasser.  The law states that if any person was on the property of another without permission, express or implied, then such a person is a trespasser.  If a dog bites a trespasser, the owner is not held liable under the strict liability rule.
  • If the dog bites the vet who is treating him, the owner is not held liable for the dog bite.
  • If a dog bites someone who provoked the dog, then the owner may not be held liable for the dog bite.  In many cases where a dog owner has told people to stay away from his dog, but the person has still advanced towards the dog and got bitten, the dog owner is not usually held responsible because it is deemed that the victim unnecessarily provoked the dog in spite of being told not to.
  • If a dog has bitten someone while helping the police or during a military operation, the owner will not be held responsible.

Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability.  Most standard homeowners policies provide policyholders with anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage.  If the claim exceeds those limits, the dog owner is personally responsible for all damages above the amount, including legal expenses.  A liability policy also provides no-fault medical coverage in the event a dog bites a friend or neighbor.  This enables them to submit their medical bills directly to the homeowner’s insurance company.  Homeowners can generally get $1,000 to $5,000 worth of this coverage.

A single lawsuit – even if won by the dog owner who has been sued – can end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and lost wages.  The greater a person’s assets, the more potential there is for risk.  The personal liability coverage available through a standard homeowners or automobile policy simply may not be enough.  Homeowners with significant assets to protect may want to consider purchasing a personal excess liability policy, or “umbrella policy,” which provides additional liability.

The California dog bite attorneys at the Liljegren Law group have extensive experience in representing victims of dog bites.  Our dog bite attorneys can help you in negotiations with insurance companies over compensation for present and future medical costs.  If you or a loved one has suffered a dog bite injury, contact our office today at 866-613-9906 for a free consultation.

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