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Dog owners protect yourself from dog bite lawsuits

If you own a dog or are thinking about getting a dog this is information you need to know.

One day you decide to bring a dog into your home. You name him, feed him, bathe him, take him to the veterinarian’s office, and he becomes a family member. Then one day the unthinkable happens, your dog bites someone and they are injured.

What happens now?
There are many questions that you will have:

– Am I liable for the injuries that the dog caused?
– Will my insurance cover this incident and if so for how much?
– What is going to happen to my dog?

Dog bites in Florida are strict liability. In other words, if your dog bites someone who is in a public place or lawfully on private property, you are liable regardless of whether your dog has bit in the past.

The bitten person’s contributory negligence will reduce their recovery. In non legalese that means that the courts will consider what that person might have done that caused your dog to bite them.

So what does all of this really mean to you?

You will be liable for the injury your dog caused, but if the person was antagonizing your dog, or did something else that might have caused the incident, the amount you owe could be a small percentage of the total.

You may also be able to avoid liability for a bite that occurs on your own private property as long as you have displayed in a prominent place an easy to read sign that contains the words “Bad Dog.”

This may protect you when the bite happens on your private property as long as the victim is not under the age of 6 or the bite was caused by a negligent act or omission of yours.

Insurance coverage is key

Whether or not your homeowners or renters insurance will cover you for this unfortunate incident depends on your policy with your insurer. In recent years dog bite claims have become more prevalent and in an effort reduce losses insurance companies have done different things to limit their liability for these claims. Some policies exclude incidents from dog bites all together, others exclude certain breeds (Pit Bulls, Rottweiler, and others), and others exclude dogs based on the percentage of DNA the dog has of certain breeds. Others limit the coverage for dog bites, for example you might have $100,000 worth of coverage, but if it is a dog bite, your insurer will only cover $25,000.

Now how do you make sure you are covered in case this unfortunate incident occurs?

– First, make sure that you read your homeowners or renters insurance policy to see what it says about dog bites. That way you won’t be caught off guard if it contains one of the exclusions or limitations motioned above.

– Second, make sure that you don’t lie about the breed of your dog, when applying for your policy.

That seems simple, but when the insurer denies coverage based on the percentage of DNA in your dog, you might not know. To ensure that you are not caught off guard, there are at home DNA tests for your dog that can be taken from a simple cheek swab on your pooch.

These run about $70-$90 dollars and can be ordered online or picked up at a local pet store. Also some veterinarians offer this service. You can be sure that if this provision is in your policy and an incident happens with your dog, your insurer will be testing it’s DNA.

Finally, if your dog is one of the excluded breeds or has the amount of DNA that causes it to be excluded, look into getting an extra umbrella insurance policy that will cover you in case your dog causes an injury.

During his time as a public attorney for the State of Florida, Bernard Walsh developed a passion for defending the legal rights of Florida's citizens. Having seen many people being taken advantage of after being injured and the financial harm that can cause for families he committed himself fully to helping injured clients get justice, by fighting to make greedy insurance companies pay what they owe.

Dog owners protect yourself from dog bite lawsuits

Goldman Babboni Fernandez
Murphy & Walsh

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