If your dog has bitten someone, you may not know what your next steps are. Are you personally responsible for providing compensation to the victim for her injuries or is there an insurance policy that applies to these kinds of injuries? You also may be wondering, does homeowner insurance cover dog bites? The following article will provide some helpful answers to these questions regarding dog bite claims.
The “One-Bite” Rule
One of the foundational principles of strict liability in common law is known as the “one-bite” rule. This principle asserts that a dog owner will only be held strictly liable for injuries their dog causes if there is sufficient evidence to show that they knew or should have known that the dog had the propensity to bite or otherwise engage in vicious behavior. For example, if a dog has a bite history, this will provide sufficient evidence that the pet owner should have been aware of the dog’s dangerous propensity and as such, should have taken the appropriate actions to control the dog’s vicious behavior.
Does Illinois Adhere to the “One-Bite” Rule?
Illinois does not adhere to the “one-bite rule.” Illinois law regarding the liability of dog owners when their dog bites an individual is codified at 510 ILCS 5/16. This statute specifically states that if a dog (without provocation) attacks, attempts to attack, or injures any person who is peacefully conducting himself in any place where he may lawfully be, the owner of such dog will be liable in civil damages to such person for the full amount of the resulting injuries. It is important to note that liability can attach to either the actual owner of the dog or the person who was in control of the dog at the time of the attack.
Because Illinois personal injury law does not embrace the “one-bite rule,” there is no need to show that the owner knew or had reason to know the dog was dangerous or had the tendency to bite in order to recover damages. Rather, based on the language of the aforementioned statute, you would need to prove the following three elements:
- The dog attacked, attempted to attack, or otherwise injured you
- You had a lawful right to be in the place where the incident occurred
- You did not provoke the dog
What is the Illinois Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Injuries?
Lawsuits based on dog bite injuries are a type of personal injury lawsuit in the state of Illinois. According to 735 ILCS § 5/13-202, a person has two years from the date the cause of action accrued to bring a personal injury claim in Illinois. As such, a person has two years from the date the dog bite incident occurred to file a personal injury claim based on this incident. Check out our blog post for more information on Illinois dog bite laws.
Does Homeowner Insurance Cover Dog Bites?
“Dog bite insurance should be a part of your home insurance liability coverage”
Yes. Generally speaking, dog bite insurance should be a part of your home insurance liability coverage, which protects you from lawsuits and covers damages for household mishaps. Dog bites may also be covered under a section of your policy called medical payments, although this part of your policy has a low maximum (usually around $5,000). It is also important to note that even though this coverage is part of your homeowners policy, it also covers you for dog incidents that take place away from your home (for example, if you take your dog to a nearby dog park and it bites someone).
In Which Instances Should I Try to Increase My Liability Insurance?
If your dog is one of a breed that is considered “aggressive,” you may want to consider increasing your dog bite liability insurance coverage. The most reputedly-dangerous dog breeds are pit bull terriers, rottweilers, fighting dogs, and wolf-dog hybrids. Additionally, although your basic liability policy provides some coverage, it may be wise for dog owners to consider umbrella insurance, which extends the personal liability coverage in your homeowners insurance. An umbrella policy can be very helpful if your dog bites someone and you end up having to max out your homeowners insurance liability limit.
What Happens if I Fail to Disclose to the Insurer That My Dog is an “Aggressive” Breed?
If you have a high risk dog and have dog bite coverage under your homeowners insurance policy, you should inform your insurance provider that your dog is considered one of the “aggressive” breeds of dogs. If you fail to inform your insurer that your dog is aggressive and it injures someone, you could be on the hook for any medical bills from treatment that person needs, as well as for liability costs, because you never told your insurer that you owned a potentially dangerous breed of dog. In some instances, your claim may be fully or partially denied because of your failure to disclose or because you exhausted your liability limits. Furthermore, you may find your policy cancelled and face higher premiums in the future or be charged with an insurance fraud felony for failing to disclose the information and be charged criminally.
What Should I Do if My Dog Bites Someone?
If your dog ever bites someone, there are some important actions that you should immediately take:
- If your dog is loose after biting someone, and especially if he is showing visible signs of further aggression, your first task should be to put it on a leash and immediately move it away from the scene of the attack.
- Your next step should be to assess the victim’s injuries. Determine if you need to call 911, make a trip to the emergency clinic, or handle any injuries yourself if they appear to be minor. Offer to drive the person to the emergency room or clinic as you feel appropriate.
- If the victim does not appear to be seriously hurt, make sure that you exchange contact and insurance information. Be open and willing to communicate, and act responsibly so that you do not come across to them as being an adversary.
- If there are any eyewitnesses nearby, make sure that you obtain their contact information as well, if they are willing to provide it to you.
- Once you have properly dealt with the victim, make sure that you immediately call your insurance company. Follow any directions they give you, and be honest with your insurance agent in explaining what happened, even if the truth regarding the incident puts your dog in a bad light.
- If you were at a dog park or other venue outside of your house when the dog bite occurred, it may be a good idea to put your dog in your car (unless it is hot outside, which could be dangerous to the animal), to make sure that it remains contained and safe while you handle everything.
- Note that if the dog bite was severe enough to break the victim’s skin, the victim’s health care professionals will need to see proof of a rabies vaccination. Make sure that you are current on the dog’s vaccination status and that you are ready to provide proof of these vaccinations once asked.
What if My Homeowners Insurance Does Not Cover Dog Bites?
Sometimes, homeowners insurance may have coverage limits that do not cover dog bites. In these situations, you will need to purchase an endorsement (which is basically an extension of your homeowners insurance coverage), that can be used to provide coverage for dogs that are not considered prohibited breeds by the insurer. Furthermore, there are a few specialized insurers that offer animal liability insurance, which is specifically designed to protect against dog bites and other injuries that your pet may cause.
How Can I Prevent My Dog From Biting Others?
The best way to avoid having to use your homeowners insurance for dog-related injuries is to prevent your dog from biting others. The following are some tips to prevent your dog from biting others:
- It is a good idea to socialize your dog early by introducing it to other humans and dogs in a safe environment.
- It is important to keep your dog on his leash, even when it is in your yard. This will better prevent the dog from biting people who are in the yard.
- Make sure that your dog is vaccinated for rabies.
- Train your dog to “drop” toys on your command so that no one has to reach in its mouth to retrieve them.
- Limit tug-of-war games and do not let your dog get too heated. An overstimulated dog is more likely to bite.
- Be ready to remove your dog from tense situations or places where it may get nervous or intimidated.
- Never leave any children alone with your dog, regardless of how friendly you believe it to be.
- Make sure that your visitors respect the dog’s space, especially when it is sleeping, eating, and drinking.
Were You Recently Bitten by a Dog? Speak to an Illinois Personal Injury Attorney
If you were recently bitten by a dog, the Palermo Law Group is here to help. We will fight to hold the responsible party accountable and help you get the compensation for your injuries and medical expenses. Please contact us today at (630)-684-2332 or use our online form to speak with one of our experienced personal injury attorneys.