Homeowners insurance is a critical safety net for those who own a residential dwelling, providing financial protection against unexpected damages and liabilities. A liability that may surprise many homeowners is dog bites, a common occurrence that can cause significant financial implications.
While homeowners insurance usually covers dog bites, conditions, limitations, or exclusions to this coverage may apply. If a dog bites you, hire a Long Island dog bite lawyer to learn the correct course of action and the compensation you can recover for the financial and psychological costs of your injury.
Understanding Homeowners Insurance
Homeowners insurance protects homeowners from financial losses tied to their homes due to unforeseen damages or accidental injuries within the property. It typically covers damage caused by fires or severe weather, theft, and personal injuries incurred on the property.
Personal liability coverage in homeowners insurance protects you when you or a family member cause or contribute to injuries or damage to someone else. The law requires property owners to take all reasonable actions to prevent guests from injuries due to hazardous features on their property.
Likewise, dog owners must ensure that they properly contain or leash their dogs to protect others from injuries if the dog should attack. Because dogs are a potential hazard to visitors or others who pass by the property, most homeowners’ policies provide liability coverage for dog bites. Homeowners insurance policies, however, may have limits, exclusions, and other rules that can complicate the ability of a claimant to receive compensation after a dog has injured them.
If a dog bites you, a dog owner might have two types of homeowners insurance coverage that you can access to obtain compensation:
- Personal liability coverage pays for the expenses you incurred due to your injury. This coverage also pays for legal fees that the homeowner incurs if you file a lawsuit.
- Medical payments coverage pays for the medical expenses you incurred for injuries from a dog attack on someone’s property.
An experienced personal injury lawyer can determine the insurance policies available to compensate your claim, including the homeowners’ policy held by the dog’s owner, as well as any insurance coverage you have, such as a health insurance policy provided through your employer.
Dog Bites and Homeowners Insurance
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 4.5 million dog bites occur annually in the United States. Of these bites, around 800,000 will result in injuries serious enough to require medical care. Medically treating dog bite injuries is more than simply cleaning and stitching the wound, however.
Treatment often requires determining whether the dog has rabies and preventing other dangerous infections that can lead to severe illness or death. Further treatment, in some cases, is necessary to minimize scarring from the bite or to assist the patient in regaining or maintaining mobility in the region of the body where the bite occurred. These incidents can lead to sizable medical bills, time missed from work or school, and other financial and psychological consequences.
Homeowners insurance generally covers dog bites under personal liability coverage. If a dog bite happens on your property or by your dog, the insurance coverage can pay for medical expenses and legal costs associated with the incident. This, however, isn’t always a guarantee. Certain factors are at play when it comes to insurance coverage for dog bites.
As the Insurance Information Institute explains, Americans file more than 17,000 dog bite claims against homeowners insurance policies annually, with the average cost per claim skyrocketing to more than $65,000 in recent years. The coverage largely depends on the breed of the dog and its history. Insurance companies may deny coverage or increase a dog owner’s premiums if their dog has a history of biting or aggression or is a breed that they consider high-risk.
Bankrate notes that in recent years, some states have prohibited insurers from declining coverage based on the breed of the dog. An experienced personal injury lawyer can explain the laws in your state and how they apply to your claim.
The Dog Bite Claims Process
When someone sustains an injury from a dog bite or attack, a homeowners insurance policy held by the dog’s owner is the most common source of compensation for the claim. A dog bite lawyer will gather the evidence needed to prove the dog owner’s liability according to the laws in the state where the bite occurred.
Personal injury lawyers will not establish a value for the claim or submit it to the insurance provider immediately. They typically wait until after the claimant’s physical injuries stabilize and their physician does not believe their condition will improve, even if treatment continues. This provides them with a clear picture of the type and cost of the treatment the claimant received, as well as any future treatments that they may need. The lawyer will also account for future lost earning capacity through the claim.
Once your lawyer has valued the claim, they will submit it to the insurance company that services the at-fault party’s homeowners insurance claim. The insurance company will assign a claims adjuster to the case.
The claims adjuster’s investigation will focus on three issues:
- Does the policy relating to the claim have coverage available for the incident?
- Was the homeowner liable for the injury that the claimant sustained?
- How much does the insurance company owe the claimant due to the homeowner’s liability?
Based on their findings, the claims adjuster can either accept their insured’s liability and pay the full value of the claim, deny the claim and notify the claimant of the reason for the denial, or accept the insured’s liability but offer to settle the claim for less than its established value.
Negotiating a Fair Settlement
It’s often easy to obtain a settlement offer from an insurance company, particularly when the insured is clearly liable for the harm to the claimant.
Obtaining a fair settlement is a different story, however. Insurance companies must resolve claims involving their insured’s liability, but they are also in the business to make money and avoid large payouts.
The insurer may accept their insured’s liability but dispute the claim’s value. The initial settlement offer will rarely pay what you deserve, so your lawyer must negotiate with the adjuster to get them to increase their offer. If they make an offer that you will accept as fair compensation, you will enter a settlement agreement to resolve the case.
What Happens if the Insurance Company Doesn’t Offer a Fair Settlement?
The insurer may refuse to fairly compensate the claim. When this happens, a lawyer can file a personal injury lawsuit in court for a judge or jury to hear the case and make decisions about liability and compensation. You, however, must meet a legal deadline to file a personal injury lawsuit for a dog bite claim.
Lawyers refer to this deadline as the statute of limitations. It bars filing a legal complaint about a matter after a certain amount of time has passed. The statute varies from state to state, with most states having a personal injury statute of limitations between two and three years after the accident.
An attorney manages the timing of the claim to file the lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires. After you file the lawsuit, however, the insurance company can still make settlement offers.
Can You Afford a Dog Bite Lawyer? Yes.
The lawyers who work on dog bite injury claims provide their services through a contingent fee arrangement. Payment for your attorney’s services relies on their ability to secure a positive outcome for your claim. If you do not receive compensation, you do not need to pay your attorney for the time they spent on your case.
Here is how it works:
- You attend a free case evaluation with an attorney with experience in handling dog bite cases. If you decide after this evaluation that you want the attorney to represent you, they will ask you to sign a contingent fee agreement. This agreement details the services the attorney will provide and designates the percentage of the award you receive by a settlement or verdict that will go to your attorney.
- You do not need an upfront retainer amount, and you will not receive a bill every time your attorney works on your case. Your legal team will begin working on the case immediately.
- When you enter a settlement agreement or the court decides in your favor, your compensation will go to your attorney. They will collect the agreed-upon percentage for payment, settle any liens placed on the award by health insurers or providers, and provide you with the remainder of the compensation.
A dog bite is a common type of injury that a dog owner’s homeowners insurance policy usually covers. A dog bite lawyer can handle the claim and fight for your right to receive fair compensation for your injuries.