A look at both sides of the dog-bite issue
The news often verifies what we see in our practice—and Stillman and Friedland have been handling more severe dog-bite cases recently.
Nationally, the rate of dog bites is going up, according to a report just out from Business Week. The article notes that claims against dog owners are up nearly 6%, with average claims in the range of $28,000 per injury. As a result, these claims represent about one-third of homeowner liability claims.
Insurance companies are strongly motivated to reduce claims costs, and that may mean less coverage for you if you are a dog owner. An Allstate employee was quoted in a recent article, in regard to dog-bite claims:
“…Actual costs can be much higher. In 2011 A Washington State Superior Court jury awarded a $2.2 million verdict to a woman who was attacked by two neighborhood pitbulls near her home in Tacoma, Washington. The woman sued the dogs' owners whose homeowners policies were unfortunately limited to $100,000 each."
What does this mean for you if you have been bitten or there is a hostile dog in your area?
If you have been attacked by a dog, you should call Stillman and Friedland for advice. We will get the details about homeowners insurance, witnesses, medical records and bills for treatment. Photos of your injuries are important as well.
Dog expert Cesar Milan also suggests that if you have an ongoing situation with a neighbor’s menacing dog, see what local laws apply. While there are steps you can take if attacked, if you see the owner fails to handle their dog or restrain it properly, it’s better to be proactive, and let the authorities handle the situation.
Remember that under Tennessee law, you have fewer rights if you are bitten on someone else’s property, so teach your kids not to approach even familiar dogs in someone else’s yard.
How does this affect dog owners?
If you own a breed of dog which is considered aggressive, your homeowners insurance may not cover you if your dog bites a neighbor or the mailman. This is especially true if your dog has a history of biting or attacking in the past.
However, according to Forbes magazine, even a well-behaved pet may result in coverage being denied:
“If you own one of the 11 ‘riskiest’ dog breeds — which include Rottweilers, Pit Bulls and Doberman Pinschers — you may face some big homeowner’s or renter’s insurance headaches.”
A second possibility, is that you may get coverage only if you and your dog attend obedience training and can verify this as well as vaccinations with the insurance company. The third option is that you may pay a higher premium for owning these breeds of dog, by opting for specialty canine coverage.
What is the most important point? Be Safe!
While you may feel more secure having a guard-type dog in your home, or you simply enjoy the companionship of your pet, you must decide if the benefits outweigh the risk associated with ownership. According to famed dog trainer Cesar Milan, most bites occur in the home, so consider the impact on your family, and whether you can invest the time to train and exercise your dog. Regular exercise makes for a happier dog (and a healthier owner) if you walk your dog every day.
Milan’s top safety rules are:
- Avoid aggressive play with your dog,
- Spay or neuter, and
- Never leave small children alone with the dog.
Since 60% of bite victims are children, so we want emphasize that you should be especially careful to supervise your dog when your children have friends over to play, and teach your own kids how to interact properly with your dog. What you understand as normal rough-housing might provoke guard behavior from your dog, or a child may not know how to behave properly with an animal and may provoke it.
For further information about potential dog bite claims or general questions about this important issue, contact Stillman and Friedland attorneys.