Dog Bites & Breed Exclusions

The number of dog bite cases reported throughout the country is continuing to rise at a dramatic pace, and is increasing at an even greater pace in states such as California where strict liability is placed on dog owners for bites.  For years, the insurance industry has been trying to combat the increase in claims by drafting and amending insurance policies to exclude coverage for bites by certain breeds of dogs known to have vicious propensities.  Breed exclusions are becoming more and more common today.  So why does the number of claims keep rising?  One possible answer could be the growing awareness among the general public that homeowner insurance policies typically provide coverage for dog bites under personal liability protection coverage.  This provides a possibility for injured victims to obtain financial compensation for their injuries even when the owner has no money or assets, and therefore an incentive to bring a case.

Personal liability protection is a type of insurance coverage that is standard in any homeowners or renter’s policy.  It protects the insured (homeowner or renter), and usually any family member living with them, from claims for negligence or strict liability brought against them by an injured person.  These provisions are difficult to spot and you will typically need a lawyer to review the policy in detail since in most cases the word “dog” or “dog bite” will not even appear anywhere in the policy documents.  Instead, it will simply state that the homeowner or renter, or their family member who owned the dog and lives with them, is protected from legal liability to any person who is injured as a result of their actions or inactions (not having the dog restrained with a leash).

When it comes to dog bites, some policies will limit the scope of the personal liability protection to bites by some dogs but not all.  Certain breeds of dogs known to be more dangerous or more prone to attack, for example, pit bulls, wolf hybrids, or even German Shepherds, will be excluded.  This will normally appear as a policy exclusion, that is, a provision following the personal liability coverage that states that there will be no coverage if the injury is cased by a dog bite from a particular type of breed or breeds.

If an owner’s dog has previously bitten someone and has a known propensity to bite, then the particular dog could also be excluded.  This, of course, would not appear as part of the policy since it is specific to an owner.  Instead, it would appear as a policy endorsement.  It would be a separate document called an endorsement that names and describes the particular dog and states that the personal liability protection does not cover any attacks or incidents where someone is bitten by that dog,

Notwithstanding the increase of breed exclusions, still bites by many types of dogs are covered under homeowners and renters policies.  If you have been the victim of a dog attack in which you were bitten or injured, contact a dog bite attorney immediately to protect your family’s rights and discuss your options.