Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Dog Bites?

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An aggressive dog on a leash growls at a stranger.

In some cases, yes.

It’s a common misconception that homeowners insurance only covers damage to the house, like a fire or robbery. Homeowners’ insurance may cover various losses for the insured, from a damaged jet ski to dog bites.

However, you should remember that not all homeowners insurance policies are alike; some cover more losses than others. Certain policies exclude animal bites unless the owner adds extra coverage, so it’s important to find a copy and discuss it with your lawyer.

Can You Sue Homeowners’ Insurance for a Dog Bite?

If the dog’s owner is known and you can get their insurance policy number, you could claim your damages, such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If the owner doesn’t want to give you their insurance policy number, you can sue them personally, and they can decide if they want to let their insurance company pay for the damages.

However, you should remember that the personal liability portion of homeowners insurance generally only covers losses where the owner is found negligent or strictly liable under local laws. This can be good or bad, depending on the situation. Here are some examples:

  • What if someone else’s dog bites you off the owner’s property? It doesn’t matter if the dog is on the covered property when they bite you, only that the insured party (in this case, the dog’s owner) is liable. In Raleigh, leash laws require dogs to be restrained when off the owner’s property (except for dog parks and other designated areas).

Under North Carolina law, the owner is liable if a dog is running around unleashed in violation of local law and bites someone. So if your neighbor’s dog runs into your yard and bites you, there is a good chance you can recover damages from their insurance policy (unless the policy excludes dog bites).

  • But what if your neighbor has an ax to grind and sics the dog on you or encourages it to attack you? Homeowners’ insurance usually covers accidents but not intentional acts. You could sue your neighbor directly, but you would need evidence that they intentionally encouraged the dog to hurt you.

In some situations, it might be easier to make a negligence claim than try to prove that your neighbor wanted the dog to hurt you.

  • What if your own dog bites you or your child? Homeowners insurance is a form of liability insurance that covers losses you cause other people. In the same way that having liability insurance on your car will not cover your own medical costs in an accident, having homeowners insurance won’t cover your medical bills if your dog bites you.

However, your health insurance will probably cover some of them.

  • How about situations where a dog bites you at a business? The dog owner’s homeowners insurance usually won’t cover these cases, but we may be able to seek coverage from the business’ liability insurance in some circumstances.

Many of these situations depend on the details of the insurance policy in question and/or the specifics of the dog attack, so we recommend speaking with a North Carolina dog bite lawyer about your particular situation.

An experienced attorney can help you understand the options for seeking compensation.

Are There Breed-Specific Restrictions on Homeowners Insurance Coverage for Dog Bites?

This is an excellent example of an answer that depends on the policy. Some homeowners insurance policies won’t cover dog bites by specific breeds – pit bulls, rottweilers, and German Shepherds are often targeted, while other policies have no such restrictions.

Again, if the dog’s owner is liable due to negligence or strict liability, you can seek compensation directly from them if their insurance does not cover the dog bite.

Are Dog Owners Strictly Liable Under the One-Bite Rule in North Carolina?

Dog owners in the state may be strictly liable if their dog is dangerous or “potentially dangerous.” A dog is defined as “dangerous” if it has killed or severely injured a person or has been used primarily for dog fighting.

Local Animal Control may also determine a dog is “potentially dangerous” if it meets certain criteria:

  • The dog bit someone, causing broken bones, disfiguring lacerations, or needing cosmetic surgery or hospitalization.
  • The dog killed or seriously wounded a domestic animal, like another dog or a cat, while outside the owner’s property.
  • The dog attacked a person in a vicious or terrorizing manner while off the owner’s property.

What Are Some Potential Defenses to Dog Bite Claims?

In most cases, dog owners are not liable if their dog bites someone trespassing on their property, attacking the owner, or attacking/abusing/tormenting the dog itself, so dog bite defenses often revolve around one of these angles.

The owner might claim that you were trespassing on the property or that the dog felt threatened because you taunted or harassed it. For this reason, it’s helpful to speak with a North Carolina dog bite attorney sooner rather than later.

Your lawyer will go to work gathering evidence of what happened. Their investigative team will seek out video or photographic evidence of the attack – for example, we may look for doorbell cameras in the area – witnesses, and previous evidence that the dog was dangerous or potentially dangerous.

Some of this evidence is easier to find if we can begin soon after the dog attack – doorbell camera videos are frequently erased to make room for new recordings, for instance.

Contact an Experienced Team of Dog Bite Lawyers Today

The Heavy Hitters at Tatum & Atkinson has recovered more than $100 million in compensation for our clients, and we’re available for a free consultation about your dog bite injuries. If we take your case, you won’t owe us anything until we win or settle it, so please contact us today at 800-LAW-0804 to learn more.