How Does Insurance Work for a Dog Bite Case?

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Dog Showing TeethIf a dog attacked you, you need to know about insurance coverage that might pay some of your damages. Unlike car accidents in which automobile liability insurance can pay your losses, most people are unclear about what insurance, if any, will compensate you for dog bite injuries. You have several possibilities for insurance benefits in these situations.

How Insurance Works in Dog Bite Cases

Types of insurance that can pay some of your dog bite damages include:

The homeowner’s liability policy of the dog owner.  The homeowner’s liability policy of the dog owner might provide some compensation for your injuries, but the odds are against this situation. Most homeowner’s insurance companies limit the amount of money they will pay on dog bite claims, exclude particular breeds from any coverage, or refuse to pay any dog bite claims whatsoever.

For example, if the dog that bit you was a pit bull, it is unlikely that the dog owner’s residential policy will pay you any benefits because of the breed of the dog. If the policy provides some benefits for animal bites but limits the recovery to $5,000, by way of example, $5,000 is all you can collect from that policy, regardless of how high your losses were. Because the average payout for a dog-related claim is over $35,000, policy limits are often inadequate.

Dog owner’s umbrella liability policy. Many people pay an additional premium to have a rider to their homeowner’s insurance policy. This extra coverage, often called “umbrella liability” covers the homeowner if someone successfully sues the homeowner for negligence not specifically mentioned in the standard homeowner’s policy.

Unfortunately for dog bite victims, however, many of these unless umbrella policies now exclude coverage for animal bites or impose limitations similar to those in many standard homeowner’s policies. In these situations, the language of the policy will control how much, if any compensation you will receive under that insurance.

Dog owner’s dog bite insurance. For many people, having a dog is a necessity, not a luxury. People often need:

  • Service dogs
  • Therapy dogs
  • Guard dogs

Also, some people have dogs that their municipality declares as dangerous because of their breed, but the dog owner has no acceptable options. For circumstances like these and the “work” dogs, the insurance industry created a form of coverage for animal liability. Even people whose dogs do not fit into these categories sometimes buy animal liability insurance simply for the peace of mind it provides.

Animal liability policies usually only cover injuries to third parties, not the dog owner or members of the owner’s family. That said, these policies provide some much-needed protection for the more than 4 million dog bite victims each year.

Your health insurance. If all else fails, your health insurance can be a way for you to receive the medical care you need. You can then pursue a claim for compensation against the dog owner.

Your Options If There Is No Insurance Coverage That Will Pay Your Losses

If there are no insurance policies that can help you, we can go after the dog owner’s personal assets. The first step is to sue the owner in civil court seeking compensation for your losses. Once we get a judgment from the court, we can attempt to collect that amount of money from the dog owner.

What Happens If You Were Partly Negligent

Does fault on your part matter in dog bite cases in Washington State? No, unless you were trespassing or your dog bite was the result of the lawful use of a police dog. If you do not fall into either of those situations, the dog owner is strictly liable for your damages.

Strict liability for dog bites in our state means that it does not matter how careful the dog owner was. If the person’s dog bit you and you were not within one of the exceptions, the owner has to pay all of the damages you incurred because of the dog attack.

Here are some scenarios that explain Washington’s strict liability law on dog bites:

  • You were bicycling through a public park when Fido attacked and bit you. Fido’s owner is liable.
  • The same situation, except that you had just robbed a store and Fido was a police dog, lawfully pursuing you. Fido’s owner is not liable.
  • You are in a friend’s backyard at his invitation when his dog Spot bit you. Spot’s owner is liable.
  • You trespassed into your neighbor’s backyard and his dog bit you. The dog owner is not liable.

Getting Legal Help for a Dog Bite Damages Claim

Do not worry about sorting through all the possible sources of insurance coverage for your damages. We handle those issues for our clients. Give us a call at 425-399-7000, and we will set a time to meet with you and talk about your legal options. There is no charge for the initial consultation. We do not charge legal fees until you get compensation.

Max Meyers
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Max is a Kirkland personal injury attorney handling cases in Seattle, King County & surrounding in WA State.