Dog Bite Insurance
By Attorney Eric J. Parker
Each year on average, more than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs. Of that number, an estimated 800,000 people require medical attention; half of those are children, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In the majority of cases, dog owners are considered legally responsible for any injuries caused by a dog they own or “control,” unless the owner can prove that the plaintiff teased, tormented or abused the dog prior to the attack. Many states, including Massachusetts, hold dog owners “strictly liable” for their dog’s violent behavior; while in other States, owners are liable only if they had prior knowledge that their dog had the potential to become violent.
Many dog owners assume that their homeowner’s insurance policy automatically provides full liability coverage in the event their dog injures another person. Historically, that assumption was generally true, but no more. A recent trend among insurance companies has been to limit their exposure in such cases by dramatically limiting coverage available to policy holders for dog-related injuries, or, in some cases excluding such coverage altogether.
Some insurance companies will refuse to cover certain breeds deemed to be “vicious”. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the following breeds caused the most number of fatalities between 1979 and 1998:
* American Pit Bull Terrier, “Pitt Bull”
* German Shepherd Dog
* Doberman Pinscher
* Chow Chow
* Great Dane
* Saint Bernard
While some States have declared “dog discrimination” based on breed unconstitutional, it hasn’t stopped insurers from putting restrictions on dog owners. According to the Insurance Information Institute, some companies now require owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, while others charge policyholders more to insure so-called “biting breeds”, such as those listed above. Some companies are avoiding the liability they perceive as caused by dangerous breeds by refusing coverage entirely, while others will agree to insure a pet if the owner takes the animal to behavior modification classes or if the dog is restrained with a muzzle, chain or cage.
In short, insurance companies are aggressively seeking to limit their exposure in dog bite liability cases because of the significant costs associated with insuring dog owners. In 2005, according to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bite-related claims cost insurers $317.2 million and accounted for approximately 15% of all liability claims paid under homeowner’s liability insurance policies.
Owners of dogs, regardless of breed, are strongly advised to review their homeowners insurance policies to ensure that the policy their own provides the same degree of coverage as a result of a dog-related claim, as all other general liability risks. If your homeowner’s insurance policy provides lower coverage, speak to your insurance broke or company representative about increasing your dog-related liability coverage limits. Reasons to ensure that you have full liability insurance coverage include the following:
* If not adequately insured, a dog owner could risk the loss of their home or other valuable assets due to a single dog bite incident.
* Dog bite victims deserve to recover compensation for their injuries. However, if insurance is inadequate or entirely unavailable, the victim may be prevented from recovering compensation for their injuries, including reimbursement of significant lost wages and medical expenses. Victims of dog bites are not most often strangers, but close family friends or extended family members visiting the home.
An extra measure of insurance involves the purchase of “umbrella coverage,” which provides coverage above and beyond the amount provided by your homeowner’s policy.
Members of Parker Scheer’s Complex Personal Injury Practice Group have extensive experience representing victims of serious dog bites, as well as in advising clients on what their insurance policies provide in the way of dog-related coverage. For more information about your rights in connection with an injury caused by a dog attack, or to speak with a dog bite attorney, contact us or call (617) 886-0500 seven days a week . There is never a charge to discuss a potential case.
Consult a Lawyer About a Dog Bite Injury
If you have suffered an injury due to a dog bite or animal attack, contact us for a free confidential case review and receive a response within hours, or call our Boston office toll free. If you need a dog bite lawyer outside of Massachusetts, contact us for a referral.
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About Attorney Eric J. Parker
Eric J. Parker is the Managing Partner and co-founder of the Boston-based trial firm Parker Scheer LLP, with offices in Massachusetts and Nevada. Mr. Parker has 20 years of active experience as one of Massachusetts’ leading civil trial lawyers, and holds the highest peer-review rating awarded to any attorney for professional skill and ethics. Mr. Parker is a member of the American Association for Justice (formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America), as well as the American, Massachusetts, and Boston Bar Associations. Mr. Parker is an elected member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA; Elected Vice President, Massachusetts Chapter, January 2007), and is a certified member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. In 2007, Mr. Parker was appointed to the Editorial Board of Massachusetts Lawyer Weekly, the leading weekly legal newspaper serving the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Mr. Parker has been named a Massachusetts Super Lawyer by the publishers of Boston Magazine, every year since the distinction was first created. Mr. Parker’s legal practice focuses on plaintiff-oriented tort litigation, including product liability, motor vehicle tort, medical and dental malpractice, premises liability claims, workplace sexual harassment and assault, aviation-related injuries, and wrongful death. Mr. Parker is a Graduate of Vassar College and received his Juris Doctor degree from Suffolk University Law School. In addition to his legal practice, Mr. Parker is also an FAA Certified Private Pilot, and was a founding member of the Board of Trustees of the Media And Technology Charter High School (MATCH) located in Boston (Chairman 2001-2005), the goal of which is to provide inner city high school students with a successful college education.