Florida is a strict liability state. By state law, a dog owner is strictly liable when their dog bites someone. Other states have what is known as the one bite rule, which does not impose liability upon the dog owner until after they are aware the dog has bitten someone in the past. While Florida’s strict liability statute holds the dog owner responsible, finding adequate insurance coverage to compensate for the damages the animal caused may be more challenging.
Homeowner insurance companies are well aware of the financial exposure caused by dog bites. In 2006, it was reported that the average dog bite cost about $22,000 nationwide. That number has been steadily increasing over the years, while the number of dog bites has actually been decreasing.
Homeowner insurance companies constantly examine ways to minimize their claims exposure. Some companies have begun to write their policies with specific exclusions for injuries caused by dog bites. A policy containing such an exclusion would give the owner no coverage for any damages caused by a dog they own, regardless of the breed.
Other companies write specific exclusions for certain types of breeds, for instance, they may insure a poodle, but not a pit bull. The owner remains liable for the injuries and damages caused by their dog, regardless of whether it may be covered by their homeowner’s insurance policy.
Unfortunately, not many dog owners have sufficient assets to pay damages caused by their dog in the absence of adequate homeowner’s insurance coverage. If there is no insurance available, or inadequate insurance, your attorney should discuss conducting an assets investigation on the dog’s owner to determine their ability to pay any damage award.
A typical Florida homeowner’s policy includes at least $100,000 in bodily injury coverage. This may be sufficient to cover the injuries and damages suffered in many dog bite cases. In more serious cases, it must be determined whether the homeowner also carried an umbrella policy providing an additional higher level of coverage.
In those cases where it there is homeowner’s insurance coverage, the typical Florida policy would will also have $1000 in medical payments coverage to help pay medical expenses. Any payments made beyond the medical payments coverage would be under the general liability portion of the owner’s policy and would typically not be offered until all medical treatment has been concluded as an overall settlement of claim.
Bear in mind that some dog bites may also be covered under a commercial liability policy. The dog may be owned by a commercial business or kept upon the business premises. Commercial policies typically have much higher limits of liability coverage. Many of them have higher medical payments coverage as well, although it is growing more common to find no medical payments coverage on many commercial policies.
When a child has been bitten by a dog, the incident should be reported to the police and Animal Control in the county where the incident occurred. They will conduct an investigation and prepare a report on their findings. Animal Control verifies whether the animal has had its required vaccinations.
A period of quarantine of the animal may be required if the animal’s vaccination record cannot be verified. This may not seem necessary in those cases where the owner and the dog are well known to you. However, in cases where the owner of the dog is not known, the investigation process allows them to identify and question the owner without you having to get directly involved.
The identity of the owner is extremely important in order to learn their address, determine if they own their own home, or the business where the attack occurred, and to determine the identity of their insurance carrier. This is crucial information in order to pursue a claim for compensation and should be obtained whether the authorities conduct an investigation or not. Dog bites often include unique medical treatment concerns, particularly with young children.
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