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Homeowner Insurance: Why Some California Dog Owners May Be Denied Coverage

According to State Farm, there were 451 dog bite claims in California in 2010. These claims resulted in payouts of $17.1 million dollars. The number of claims and the amounts paid out were highest in California as compared with other states, earning California the number one spot on State Farm’s dog bite claims list in 2012, explains a California dog bite lawyer.



As this insurance data shows, dog bite claims are very expensive. The Insurance Information Institute indicates that the average cost for a dog bite claim annually is around $30,000. These costs have increased more than 50 percent over the past decade. 



With the high cost of dog bite claims, it is no wonder that many insurance companies are becoming wary of providing coverage. Bear River Mutual Insurance, American Family, Nationwide and Farm Bureau Insurance are just a few of the many carriers that have either declined to cover dogs or that have restricted the breeds of dogs that they are willing to cover.



Insurance companies generally provide liability protection in the form of homeowners or renters insurance. This liability protection covers homeowners if they are sued because of accidents at their home. It also covers homeowners if their dogs bite and injure others. When a dog bite victim takes legal action to recover monetary compensation from a homeowner or a renter, the insurance policy covers the cost of legal fees, the settlement, or the damages awarded by a court. This coverage is provided up to the insured’s policy limits, explains a California dog bite lawyer. 



If insurance companies refuse to provide coverage for a dog, then homeowners may be left with no financial protection in the event that their dog attacks. In some cases, homeowners may be required to have insurance to keep their pets, such as in apartment communities or locations with homeowner associations. This can leave homeowners scrambling to find an insurance company willing to offer protection against dog bites.  



The type of dog a homeowner or renter has can also impact his or her ability to obtain insurance coverage. Many insurance carriers have limitations on certain breeds that have a higher tendency to bite. For example, Farmers Insurance recently told Californians that attacks involving pit bulls, Rottweilers and wolf-hybrids would no longer be covered.  This decision was made because pit bulls alone accounted for more than one-fourth of the dog bite claims the insurer paid out. 



Breeds that are generally considered high risk due to a history of aggression include German Shepherds, pit bulls, Mastiff breeds, Presa Canarios, Rotweilers, Dobermans and Alaskan Malamutes.   While some insurers will evaluate these breeds on a case-by-case basis, others, like Farmers Insurance, are instituting blanket bans on them. 



Dog Owners in California Liable for Bite Injuries



Having adequate insurance is essential in California because dog owners can be held legally liable when their dogs harm others.  There are several legal theories that a dog bite victim could use to obtain compensation from the owner of the animal, explains a California dog bite lawyer. 



Under the relevant code section of California Civil Code section 3342, “The owner of any dog is liable for the damages suffered by any person who is bitten by the dog while in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner's knowledge of such viciousness.” 



This means California uses strict liability rules to indicate that dog owners are held accountable any time their dogs bite, regardless of whether they knew or had reason to believe that the dog was aggressive or vicious in any way. This is distinct from the one-bite rules in some states that do not impose automatic liability on owners unless the dog has a violent or aggressive past. 



California dog bite victims can also take legal action if the dog owner or handler was negligent in some way that led to the attack. Dog bite victims who have been bitten by dogs not vaccinated for rabies can also make a claim for damages caused by needing to undergo a rabies vaccine. Dog owners can even be held liable if they keep large dogs known for “dangerous playfulness” or “over-demonstrative affection” and their dogs injure someone by jumping on or knocking the person over. 



California dog owners must have proper insurance coverage in case an attack occurs. Dog bite victims should be aware of their rights in California to avoid being left to cope with the burdensome cost of treating painful and sometimes permanent injuries. 



Additional articles on California dog bite laws and the legal recourse available to the victims of dog attacks are available to the public free of charge through our office.



If you would like to request one of these free resources, or to speak with a California dog bite lawyer, feel free to call 866-981-5596. 

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