WHEN A DOG BITES, WHO PAYS FOR THE PAIN AND SUFFERING?
Dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one third of all homeowners liability claim dollars paid out in 2017, costing almost $700 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
The Institute had very bad news for Hoosiers – on the organization’s color-coded map of “Dog Bite Liability Claims by State”, Indiana was colored orange, meaning we were in the top eleven in terms of number of dog bite claims for last year.
As dog bite injury attorneys here in Indiana, we at Ramey & Hailey were unfortunately not surprised by that “orange rating”. We know that a dog attack can result in serious injuries and even death. For many victims whom we have represented, the costs of medication, physical therapy, and cosmetic surgery were overwhelming.
Indiana House Bill 1025 “holds a dog owner or custodian strictly liable for a dog bite or injury when 1) a dog bites or injures a person without provocation, and 2) the person is bitten or injured while in a location the person is legally authorized to occupy.” But it is not only owners that can have liability for a dog bite injury. Premises liability lawsuit cases have been brought against property owners, employers, stores, police departments and school districts.
But don’t the dog owners themselves typically have insurance coverage that takes care of things when their pet causes an injury? Well….yes. Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability legal expenses, up to the liability limits (typically $100,000 to $300,000). If the claim exceeds the limit, the dog owner is responsible for all damages above that amount.
Increasingly, though, the Insurance Information Institute admits, insurers are taking steps to limit their exposure by:
- requiring dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites
- charging more – or refusing to offer coverage – to owners of certain dog breeds such as Pit bulls and Rottweilers
- requiring that the dog be restrained with a muzzle, chain, or cage
The question remains – what if the costs of your dog bite injury exceed what is covered by the owner’s insurance policy? (“Your dog could bankrupt you,” Marcus Pickett writes in netquote.com, pointing out that the size of settlements for dog bite cases has outstripped inflation.) Of course, bankrupting a homeowner (often a neighbor or friend – most dog bite incidents involve animals familiar to the victim) – does little to help the dog bite victim!
If you or someone you know has been severely injured by a dog, retaining the services of an experienced personal injury attorney could prove crucial. There is much to be done, including:
- investigating the claim
- drafting legal pleadings and motions
- interviewing and deposing any witnesses
- communicating with the pet owner’s insurance company
- communicating with the property owner or with the organization responsible for caring for the dog
- organizing medical records and bills
- communicating with the injured person’s health insurance representatives
Remember, when the dog bites, there may have been no one there to help you fight back. After the fact, you need someone to help you fight for compensation. Someone needs to pay for all the financial costs and all the pain and suffering that animal caused!