Are we liable for injuries caused by our adult child's dog?

by Anonymous

Our 33 year old unemployed son has been living with us for economic reasons, along with his dog, a 6 year old male (spayed) pit bull. This past spring he was walking the dog on a leash, got distracted, and the dog bolted away and he dropped the leash.

The dog started to attack another dog at a neighbor's house down the street. The other dog's owner apparently stepped in to separate the dogs. What happened at that time is not clear and there are at least two different stories. The owner of the other dog says that he fell and hit his head.

No bites occurred and although a hand or finger injury was later claimed, it was not mentioned to us at the time. He was seen in an urgent care, had an imaging study and was fine. He subsequently stated his finger was swollen and ended up seeing an orthopedist a month or two later for an injection. The problem is not 100% resolved.

Are we, the parents of the 33 year old owner of the dog, legally liable for this injury?

The other dog owner's medical insurance told him that it was our homeowner's insurance responsibility to pay for his injuries. We have not provided the homeowners insurance information as it does not seem logical to us that it would be involved. This did not occur on our property and the dog does not belong to us.

The neighbors are good people and this was obviously not their fault. We want to see them compensated but need to know to what extent we are legally liable. Any information you can provide would be very helpful. Thank you.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Are we liable for injuries caused by our adult child's dog?":

Anonymous (Minnesota):

Your homeowners insurance should cover the injuries inflicted by your son’s dog. Homeowners insurance normally covers family members who cause injuries to others off the property, other than injuries willfully or wantonly inflicted. To know for sure, contact your homeowners insurance company and ask. Moreover, read your policy closely to see if it covers injuries sustained by third parties off the property.

Many insurance companies have their own "one bite rule." This means in most cases, the insurance company will pay for injuries sustained by a third party the first time the insured's (or a family member who is living on the premises) dog inflicts an injury.

However, after doing so the insurance company may cancel the homeowners’ policy, fail to renew it, or require the homeowner to add a canine exclusion, meaning the insurance company will not pay for any additional dog bites.

You have a choice. You can either cooperate and turn the matter over to your homeowners insurance company, or ignore your neighbor's request for assistance. That will be entirely up to you.

At this time, it's hard to tell whether or not your neighbor's injury will be more serious and require surgery or other extended medical treatment. If the injury does turn out to be more serious, you can either pay for his medical bills out of your own pocket, or turn the matter over to your insurance company. Once again, that's entirely up to you.

The State of Minnesota’s law regarding dog bites states:

"If a dog, without provocation, attacks or injures any person who is acting peaceably in any place where the person may lawfully be, the owner of the dog is liable in damages to the person so attacked or injured to the full amount of the injury sustained. The term "owner" includes any person harboring or keeping a dog but the owner shall be primarily liable. The term "dog" includes both male and female of the canine species."

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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