Homeowner & Landlord Liability for Dog Bites
Not all dogs are man’s best friend. Some dogs bite. The party liable for the bite varies by situation. Depending on a range of factors, liability could fall to the dog owner, the homeowner, renter, landlord, or the homeowner’s association. The following discussion provides a quick guide, but a qualified personal injury attorney can help you determine the best course of action if your dog bites someone or if a dog bites someone on your property.
A dog bite may look small, but it can cost a lot of money. Insurance usually covers the cost, but not everyone carries liability insurance, and some policies don’t cover all dogs. According to the Insurance Information Institute’s Dog Bite Liability report, the average dog bite payment was $33,230 in 2016.
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Scenarios Where a Landlord Could be Held Liable
Many landlords don’t rent to dog owners because of potential dog bite liability. Landlords can protect themselves though. Usually, the lessee’s renter’s insurance covers dog bites. However, the landlord must ensure their tenant carries a policy and that it doesn’t exempt the dog breed they own.
Also, consider that most insurance companies use the “one bite” rule. This tenet of common law says that a dog owner isn’t liable for the first time a dog bites someone since they couldn’t have known the dog was dangerous. If the dog’s owner or the landlord did know the dog would bite though, there’s potential liability.
The state of Nevada doesn’t currently have a dedicated statute for dog bite liability. Instead, dog bite cases are decided based on a modified version of the one bite rule relating to negligence. If a landlord knew a dog was dangerous but did nothing to remove the dog from the premises, there is potential liability, unless the court denied them permission to remove the animal. If the landlord looked after the tenant’s dog while they worked, fed it, took it for walks, etc. they inherit the dog owner’s liability.
A landlord can protect themselves by taking three actions:
- Follow the law by taking all measures possible to remove a dangerous animal from your property. In the meantime, post warnings on site.
- Interview tenants and their pets before renting to them. Meet each pet and require proof of all vaccinations.
- Maintain adequate insurance and ensure that tenants do, too. Check all policies to ensure they cover dog bites and don’t exempt the breed owned by the lessee.
Scenarios Where a Homeowner Could be Liable
A standard homeowner’s insurance policy may cover dog bites. It usually includes the first bite but removes coverage for them from the policy after that. Check your policy; it may also include dog bites that occur on your vacation property or in your car.
A standard homeowner’s policy includes a “business pursuits” exclusion. That means any dog bites arising from business taking place in your home aren’t covered. Consider obtaining a policy that does cover work at home. This exclusion includes hobbies that turn a profit.
For instance, in Wiley v. Travelers Ins. Co., an Oklahoma salesman who turned his barn into a kennel and bred St. Bernard puppies was liable for a shopper bitten while looking at the puppies. Although the case took place in Oklahoma, the outcome of the case applies to law throughout the U.S.
Scenarios Where a HOA Could be Found Liable
A homeowner’s association has an essential duty to keep its streets and common areas safe and secure. It may incur liability if a dog bites someone in its common areas or on the street. Commonly, the HOA’s Board of Directors drafts covenants placing “reasonable restrictions” on a homeowner’s ability to house a dangerous dog in an effort to protect the HOA from liability.
These agreements may define what the organization considers “dangerous,” “vicious,” and “serious injury.” They also describe the required response by the dog’s owner. A HOA that failed to enforce these covenants would incur liability, also.
Liability Insurance For a Dog
Umbrella policies provide additional liability insurance. This type of policy specifically covers the items named in it and at a particular coverage level. Dog liability insurance provides another option. This niche in the insurance industry includes what some homeowner’s insurance policies won’t.
Some companies even cover “dangerous” breeds. Premiums vary based on age, breed, history, size/weight, and other factors. Policies start at about $125 a year for $50,000 to $100,000 of coverage on a small, spayed dog. Regardless of the policy type, the insured is required to inform their insurance company if their dog bites someone or authorities declare it dangerous.
For a better understanding of dog bite liability and to help determine the right course of action, contact a qualified injury attorney. Dog bites cost insurers $602 million in 2016 alone, reports the Insurance Information Institute. They comprise more than one-third of all homeowner’s insurance claims. An experienced attorney can help you navigate the complexities of your specific dog bite case, helping you ensure you receive fair compensation for your injuries.