Who doesn’t love their dog? Dog is man’s (and woman’s) best friend. Many dog owners treat their dogs as if they are their children! But it is important to remember that your dog is an animal and can’t reason like a human. The sweetest dog may still sense that they are in some way being attacked and may injure someone. As a result, you need to make sure that you are protected in the event your dog does the unexpected and bites someone.
What is your legal responsibility if your dog hurts someone in Missouri? It is important to understand that dog bite laws vary from state to state, and this blog only addresses the law in Missouri. And that is important, because in Missouri, your liability is at a higher level than in some other states. In Missouri, you are strictly liable for the harm caused by your dog to another person. Section 273.036 RSMo. states that a dog owner is liable to an injured person if: 1. The injury was caused by a dog bite; 2. The injured person did not provoke the dog; and 3. The person who was bitten was lawfully on the public or private property.
What does that mean? That means it doesn’t matter if the dog has never bitten someone before. And it doesn’t matter if you took reasonable care to restrain your dog—you are still responsible.
So how can you own a dog and still sleep at night, knowing that you can be sued for your dog’s first bite and be financially responsible to the injured person? MAKE SURE YOU HAVE INSURANCE!
What type of insurance covers you for your dog’s actions? If you own a home, your homeowner’s policy may cover you. If you don’t own a home but rent, then your renter’s policy may cover you. But it is important to point out that these insurance coverages MAY cover you---which means that some policies MAY NOT cover you.
In some policies, the insurance company may have an exclusion for dog bites. Check the exclusion section of your policy to see if that is the case. Other policies cover you for dog bites, but some certain breeds are excluded. For instance, your policy may cover you for dog bites, UNLESS the dog is a particular breed of dog. You might think you have coverage for the acts of your dog, but learn later when your dog bites someone and a claim is made for their injuries that you don't have coverage, because the specific breed of dog is excluded.
What dog breeds are sometimes excluded from insurance coverage? It is common to see exclusions for pit bulls, Rottweilers, Staffordshire terriers, and Doberman Pinschers, just to name a few. Some policies go even further to exclude more breeds, like German Shepherds and Siberian Huskies. And don’t think you are off the hook if you have a mixed breed dog--you would be surprised at how some policies even exclude mixed breeds that have even a small percentage of a certain breed of dog. This can be very difficult to deal with, as so many rescued stray dogs are mixed.
In any event, you don't want to be caught thinking you have insurance, only to find out that you don't when it's too late. If you own a dog, read your homeowners policy or your renters policy and look to see if there are any exclusions for injuries caused by dogs, or if there any exclusions for particular breeds of dogs.
So that begs the final question---what do you do if you find out your policy has an exclusion for your particular breed of dog? Contact your insurance agent and see if you can purchase additional coverage, or find another insurance company that doesn’t exclude your breed of dog.
What should you do if you are unfortunately injured by someone else’s dog in Missouri? It is best to retain an attorney right away so that your attorney can determine who might be liable for the dog’s actions. In Missouri, anyone who harbors the dog could have liability, including a landlord or a family member who maybe doesn’t own the dog, but owns the house where the dog is kept. The insurance issues in these instances can be very difficult to navigate. You need to find out very quickly if there is available insurance coverage for your injuries.
We have successfully handled many dog bite cases for people seriously injured in Missouri. Give us a call if you find yourself unfortunately injured by someone else’s dog.
We are all dog lovers at Bollwerk & Tatlow—every single person in our office owns dogs—and we feel it is most important that dog owners take responsibility for the actions of their furry family members.