Dangerous dog laws will be used against you by insurance companies. Fight back with the latest facts on dangerous dog laws and insurance company exclusions.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2017 alone insurance companies paid out over $686 million for injuries caused by dogs.¹
While the actual number of reported dog attacks is trending down, the amount of the average dog-attack settlement has gone up to over $37,000.
Because so many serious injuries are the result of attacks by the same types of dogs, many states and municipalities have expanded their liability and animal control laws to include special rules for specific breeds of dangerous dogs.
Insurance companies have also changed their liability and compensation rules when it comes to dangerous dogs. Here’s what you need to know.
Top 14 Breeds Named in Dangerous Dog Laws
Thanks to horrific news stories and huge dog attack insurance settlements, these are the dog breeds that are considered dangerous or vicious by most insurance companies and an increasing number of cities and towns:
- Staffordshire Terrier
- Pit Bull
- Doberman Pinscher
- Alaskan Malamute
- Siberian Husky
- Chow Chow
- Presa Canario
- Bull Mastiff
- Wolf Hybrids
- Great Danes
- German Shepherd
- Cane Corso
In most localities, breed-specific laws also apply to mixed breeds of dangerous dogs. The dog owner is not off the hook for having a mutt when you’ve been attacked and injured.
Check Your Location for Dangerous Dog Laws
In the face of mounting dog-inflicted injuries, 31 states and the District of Columbia have statewide laws identifying “vicious” or “dangerous” dogs.
These dangerous dog laws are to protect the public’s safety and wellbeing. In addition to state laws, many municipalities, townships, and villages have their own dog laws.
States with dangerous dog laws include:
District of Columbia
Dangerous dog laws aren’t limited to regional governments. There is an increasing number of public housing authorities that ban or restrict dangerous dog breeds.
Most laws are to prevent dangerous situations. They intend to give fair warning to dangerous dog owners to monitor, leash, fence, and otherwise take all reasonable measures, such as training, to keep their dogs from harming others.
The laws go one step further. They warn owners of dangerous dogs that their failure to abide by the laws subjects them to fines, and in some cases, incarceration.
Dangerous Dog Insurance Exclusions
Insurance companies don’t like to pay out large settlements to injured claimants like you.
When you’ve suffered severe dog attack injuries, the adjuster may tell you there is no available coverage, especially if you were attacked by a breed of dog considered dangerous.
To stop the outpouring of money to dog attack victims from insurance settlements and court verdicts, many homeowner’s insurance policies exclude dangerous dog breeds. Others restrict coverage not based on breed, but instead on the dog’s history of attacks on others.
There are very few states, like Pennsylvania and Michigan, that don’t allow insurance companies to exclude liability coverage based solely on a dog’s breed.
Some insurance companies completely refuse to provide coverage unless the insured homeowner puts in place strict safety measures to protect other people and animals from harm.
Other insurance companies will normally accept the first claim for a dog bite but deny any future claims if the dog inflicts any more injuries.
Still others will only agree to provide coverage for dog-inflicted injuries based on an entirely separate pet liability policy.
As part of their underwriting practice, insurance companies analyze risk factors for individual dog breeds they consider potentially dangerous.
The underwriters focus on the following behavior:
- A dog that has inflicted severe injury on a human being without provocation
- A dog that killed or inflicted severe injury on another domestic animal
- A dog that attacked a child without provocation
- A dog that someone used in the commission of a crime
When insurance companies decide to provide coverage, they do it under the personal liability section of the homeowner’s policy.
Depending on the policy and the premium the insured pays, the coverage limit will normally be anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000.
All homeowner policies exclude coverage for injuries to the insured’s household and family members.
Proving Liability to the Insurance Company
Most dog-attack personal injury claims are compensated under homeowners insurance policies.
To succeed in a personal injury claim, the dog-attack victim must prove the dog owner was negligent and that because of that negligence, the owner is liable for the victim’s damages.
Negligence occurs when a dog owner does something that no reasonable dog owner would do, or fails to act in a way that any careful dog owner would.
Liability is a legal word that means responsibility. Negligent dog owners are liable for the dog-attack victim’s damages.
Victims have two ways to prove a dangerous dog owner was negligent.
- The easy way to establish negligence is to prove the dog owner violated state or local law. That’s it. That means the dog owner broke the law, and is liable for the victim’s damages.
- If there aren’t dangerous dog laws in effect for the location where the attack occurred, the victim will have to work a little harder. In this situation, the victim must establish basic negligence by proving the dog owner did something wrong or failed to behave responsibly.
When a victim proves either form of negligence, the dog owner becomes responsible, or liable, for the victim’s damages.
In personal injury claims, damages often include medical bills, out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and an amount for pain and suffering.
Dangerous dog claims could include property damages as well, like the cost of ruined clothing, broken glasses, cell phones and other personal items, and repair costs for bicycles or cars if the dog caused a crash.
Example of proving basic negligence:
Allen lived in an area without any dangerous dog laws. One morning while Allen was out jogging, a loose Rottweiler chased him, savagely biting him several times in the leg.
The Rottweiler was owned by Brandy, who lived nearby.
Allen’s injuries required surgical repair, skin grafts, and left him with a permanent limp. He was out of work for months, dealing with painful treatments and recurring nightmares.
Allen filed a personal injury claim with Brandy’s homeowner insurance policy. Her insurance policy did not have a dangerous dog exclusion.
The insurance company would have to pay Allen’s injury claim, but only if he could prove Brandy was negligent.
To prove negligence, Allen claimed Brandy failed to keep her dog fenced in, which was compounded by the fact the dog was a dangerous breed.
In her defense, Brandy said her dog was fenced in, but on the morning of the attack, the dog broke through a hole it made in the fence.
In the absence of any local laws classifying Rottweilers as dangerous dogs, the insurance company denied Allen’s injury claim, saying Allen couldn’t prove their insured was negligent.
The insurance company took the position that Brandy had acted responsibly by keeping the dog in a fenced yard.
Allen hired a personal injury attorney to handle his dog attack claim.
Allen’s attorney was able to discover that Brandy’s Rottweiler had a history of escaping the fenced yard. He took affidavits from neighbors who had been chased by the Rottweiler.
The attorney also obtained records from the local animal control department showing three separate complaints made by joggers and bicyclists about Brandy’s Rottweiler in the year leading up to the attack on Allen.
The additional evidence proved Brandy knew her fence was inadequate for containing her Rottweiler, and she knew the dog was chasing and terrorizing people when it got out of the yard.
Confronted with the documentation provided by Allen’s attorney, the insurance company conceded that Brandy was negligent.
Allen was fully compensated for his injuries, pain and suffering.
Dangerous Dog Laws Keep Changing
Today more than ever, the subject of dangerous dog breeds is under constant debate by state and local authorities. Adding to the controversy are dog owner lobbyists, insurance companies, and trial attorneys, each having its own “dog in the race.”
If you’re hurt in a dog attack and are considering filing a personal injury claim, first check to see whether your state, city, or municipality has statutes related to dangerous dog breeds.
If so, you may have a relatively easy time settling your claim with the homeowner’s insurance company.
If the dog was a guard dog used in a local business, your claim is just as strong.
If your state or local governing authority doesn’t have dangerous or vicious dog statutes, you need to accumulate evidence supporting your claim of owner negligence. You can do this by using photographs and video, witness statements, and doctors’ reports.
When the Insurance Company Says No
When you’ve been seriously injured by a vicious dog attack, it adds insult to injury to read the denial letter from the dog owner’s insurance company.
How can they refuse to pay your damages when their insured has a dog that everyone knows is dangerous?
As more and more cities and states enact dangerous dog laws, insurance companies are just as quick to change their insurance policy underwriting rules in those areas, excluding coverage for damages caused by vicious dogs.
But you don’t have to give up when the insurance company denies your claim, or only makes a low-ball offer to persuade you to sign a release and go away.
Before giving up, and before signing anything, consult a personal injury attorney.
An experienced attorney knows how to locate and use the evidence needed to build a strong dog injury case. Your attorney can discover sources for compensation that you’d never know about, like other lines of insurance and personal assets.
You won’t have to worry about how to pay an attorney. Reputable personal injury attorneys typically represent injury victims on a contingency fee basis. That means your attorney will be paid a percentage of your settlement amount or court verdict.
If you don’t win your case, you won’t owe the attorney anything.
You can feel confident knowing your attorney will have great leverage in settling your dog attack claim – and for an amount you truly deserve. It costs you nothing to find out what an attorney can do for you.
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