Report: California leads the country in dog bite claims

Homeowners insurance policies often cover the damages associated with a dog bite, and in California, those claims are happening at an alarming rate.

A dog bite or attack could have lifelong repercussions for victims in California. Scarring, becoming paralyzed, disfigurement and broken bones are just a few of the maladies someone could suffer. In the most serious cases, a bite could end in a fatality.

In a disturbing trend, California leads the country when it comes to insurance claims filed following dog attacks. Here, we explore the topic as well as what to do if a bite occurs.

By the numbers

According to the Insurance Information Institute, in 2016, there were 1,934 homeowners insurance claims in California that cited dog-related injuries. This led the country, which the state has done a number of times over the past decade, including in 2015. The III states that the amount of total claims paid out in California also tops the list, with $76.3 million going to victims of dog attacks.

California's laws

When it comes to dog bites, California law clearly states that the owner of the animal is strictly liable for any injuries incurred. In other words, a victim does not have to prove that the owner was in any way negligent. Instead, the owner assumes financial responsibility for the incident.

There are several exceptions to this rule, as the owner may not be strictly liable if any of the following occurs:

  • The victim was harassing or otherwise provoking the animal.
  • The victim was unlawfully on the dog owner's property at the time of the attack.
  • The attack occurred as the dog was defending itself in the course of law enforcement work.

Also, the law does not hold an owner strictly liable if the dog does not bite the victim but instead the injuries occur because the animal jumped or scratched the victim. However, the victim may still be able to bring a negligence claim against the owner.

Dog bites and homeowners insurance

In many cases, a homeowners insurance policy covers the damages that a dog bite or attack causes. The claim would be filed with the dog owner's insurance company. However, it should be noted that many of these policies exclude certain breeds or refuse to cover animals that have already been deemed "dangerous" or "vicious."

It is entirely possible that these insurance policies either deny or fall short of the money a victim needs to make a full recovery. In those circumstances, it may be necessary to file a personal injury lawsuit in order to recover compensation. Keep in mind that a lawsuit could account for noneconomic damages, such as emotional suffering, where a homeowners policy would not.

Anyone who has questions about this issue should speak with a personal injury attorney in California.