Woodland Hills personal injury attorney Barry P. Goldberg has handled a disproportionate number of dog bite and dog attack cases after practicing 31 years in the mostly suburban San Fernando Valley. The combination of families, children, sunshine and family pets make the Valley ripe for every kind of dog bite scenario possible. Most Homeowners naturally have “Homeowners Insurance.” When a bite occurs, many Homeowners run to their insurance policies for the first time to see if they are covered for the incident.
Finding out if you are covered can be a serious inquiry because damages for dog bites can be significant. Statistically, most dog bites occur to children. Also, most dog bites occur to the hands and face. More recently, “dog bite bacterial infections” have become more common and can cause serious health problems and cause disfiguring multiple surgeries. Not surprisingly, dog bite verdicts and settlements are disproportionately high as compared to many other types of casualty losses.
In order to stem the runaway liability concerns, insurers have started to exclude certain dogs mostly by breed. For example, my insurer excludes the “Pit Bull,” all varieties; Rottweiler, pure and mixed breeds; guard dogs, which they qualify as any dog trained to attack, including “protection” dogs; and the Wolf/Hybrid. Additions are the Akita, Bernese Mountain Dog, Pressa Canario, Chow, Doberman Pinscher, American, Eskimo and Greenland Huskies, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, Karelian Bear Dog and the Russo-European Laika. Service dogs, regardless of breed, are exempt. I was informed that the ban did not include the Siberian Husky unless the dog had a bite history.
Recently, the insurer designated the Wolf and Wolf Crossbreeds, Rottweiler, Pit Bull (the broad definition), Doberman Pinscher, Akita and Chow as non-insurable for homeowners and renters.
Every insurer has a different strategy regarding homeowners with dogs. From experience I understand that many insurers will exclude a dog after a bite claim, regardless of breed. Some insurers require dog training in order to qualify for coverage. From the list above, you may note that the most common “biter” is not listed as an excluded breed. That is the German Shepard. In addition to the expected frequency of biters, insurers look more closely at the type of expected damage inflicted by the type of breed. While there is dispute over the frequency of bite inflicted by the popular Pit Bull and Pit Bull mixes, few can argue that Pit Bulls have the ability to inflict serious injury including, on a rare occasion, even death.
I always recommend that clients actually look at their Homeowners Policy if they own a dog. Further, clients should think twice about owning an excluded breed because they will be personally responsible for the damages inflicted which could be financially devastating. On the other hand, if a client insists on owning a questionable breed, there are specialty insurers out there which will insure almost any animal. Often, these insurers will require some certification that the dog is a “good citizen!” In these circumstances, I always recommend that the client work with an independent insurance agent who will procure the right kind of coverage and provide adequate peace of mind.