It sounds crazy doesn’t it? We live in Florida where a homeowner is strictly liable for the harm caused by the dog. There is no defense just because the dog has always been a gentle puppy. Homeowners are responsible, whether their dog bites you or simply gets under your wheel causing your bicycle crash. If that’s the case, why isn’t there always a recovery from a crash with injuries caused by a dog?
The first issue is that you have to identify the dog. Many times cyclists ride through neighborhoods or on county roads which are unfamiliar. Dogs can come from anywhere. They can run away as fast as they appear. It is absolutely critical that someone identify the dog so that the owner can be located. One of the best ways to do this is to contact animal control in the county where the event occurred. They will at least document what happened and will make an effort to locate the dog. You can assist them by asking neighbors. Having a picture of the dog is even better.
If dog is identified and matched with its owner, the next step is to find out if the owner owns a home with homeowner’s insurance, or renters insurance, if they rent. Many older people who have paid off their mortgage will drop their homeowner’s insurance coverage. That’s not the case with anyone who has a mortgage as homeowners insurance is required for them. In most situations there is no way to verify homeowners insurance through the public records. An experienced bicycle injury lawyer will know how to reach out to the homeowner to get this information.
Finally, if you determine the dog owner does have homeowners insurance, it still doesn’t guarantee a recovery for your injuries. Citizens Insurance has the largest share of the homeowner’s insurance market in Florida and their policies have total dog exclusion. They don’t cover the homeowner for injuries caused by their dog. Other homeowner’s carriers in Florida do not have a total exclusion but may have a dollar limit for dog liability.
We had a recent case in which the homeowner had a $50,000 limit on injuries caused by a dog, even though the policy had $300,000 in general liability coverage. Other companies simply will exclude coverage for certain breeds of dogs. Unfortunately, most homeowners don’t read or understand their policies. Many assume they have dog liability coverage which has been specifically excluded on their policy. We ran into this recently in a case involving a seemingly responsible homeowner who was shocked to find out he had no coverage for his liability after his dog seriously injured a cyclist. There are specialty insurance companies which sell dog liability protection, however this is not well known in the insurance marketplace.
This story is not all negative. We have had very successful recoveries on behalf of clients who were seriously hurt in crashes caused by a dog. In each situation, they were fortunate the homeowners were identified and had good coverage with no exclusions. Those policies still exist through many insurance companies. If you have been injured because of a dog it always pays to call and discuss the situation with us. Contact us online or call our office directly at 727.446.0840 to schedule your free consultation.