What Florida Homeowners Need to Know about Insurance Coverage for Dog Bite Liability Claims

J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo
Founder of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A.

While the family dog often is referred to as “man’s best friend”, dogs like any type of animal can engage in unpredictable behavior.  If your dog causes injury to another, you might need your insurance company to defend you in a lawsuit and pay any judgment or settlement.  Because Florida law favors dog bite victims over homeowners, you can be liable for a dog bite even if you are not negligent.  Because strict liability applies to dog bite cases and the average cost of a claim for a dog bite is tens of thousands of dollars, your financial security can depend on your insurance company fulfilling its contractual obligations to defend and indemnify you.

There are a few key statistics every homeowner should know about dog bites and liability claims related to dog attacks. 

  • There are approximately 4.5 million dog bite incidents per year.
  • Approximately 885,000 dog attacks require medical care.
  • Dog bites account for one-third of the total dollars paid out on homeowners insurance policies.
  • There are almost 17,000 dog bite claims paid annually.
  • The average amount paid on a dog bite claim is $30,000.

This data is particularly troubling because Florida law is extremely liberal in terms of awarding compensation to dog bite victims.  If someone is bitten when they are in a public area or lawfully on private property, the dog owner is liable even if the owner had no reason to believe the dog would act viciously.  In other words, the owner of the dog does not get one free bite.  There are other theories of liability that also might provide a basis for imposing liability for a dog bite, such as:

  • Negligence Per Se: This theory essentially imposes liability on the homeowner for violation of a local leash law.
  • Scienter: This legal theory imposes liability for any type of injury caused by a dog, including but not limited to a bite injury, where the owner had reason to know the dog had a propensity for viciousness.
  • Negligence: If a homeowner fails to repair a board in a fence that is clearly broken, the owner can be liable for negligently letting the dog escape because of a failure to exercise reasonable care to keep the dog enclosed in the backyard.

Although recovery for the average dog bite claim is $30,000, the monetary judgment or a potential settlement can be much higher depending on the extent of the injury.  When children are mauled by a dog, they can suffer extensive facial disfigurement, internal organ damage, broken bones and even death.  These types of claims can be hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, so you need your homeowner insurance company to fulfill its contractual obligations.  If your homeowners insurance company refuses to provide a defense or to pay a claim arising from a dog bite or other personal injury lawsuit, you should seek prompt legal advice from an experienced Florida homeowners insurance claims lawyer.

If you are having difficulties getting your insurance company to treat you fairly, you are welcome to contact my Florida insurance claims dispute law firm.  If you have questions about Miami-Dade homeowners claims, you are welcome to contact my Miami insurance claims law firm.  The Law Firm of J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo, P.A. offers free consultations and case evaluations.  No Recovery, No Lawyer Fees.  Call 305-461-1095 or Toll Free 1-866-71-CLAIM.

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