You can file a dog bite lawsuit if the owner has no insurance. However, you will likely struggle to recover compensation for your damages even if the owner is held liable. If you suffered extensive injuries, the odds of recovering full compensation are slim. You can be left with very little recovery in a successful dog bite case, even though you proved that the dog owner was at fault.
In cases like these, it is important to look for someone else to hold liable for your injuries. If someone else acted negligently and caused the dog bite, you may recover compensation from them.
Many dog owners do not have any insurance
A lot of dog owners do not carry liability insurance, also known as third-party insurance, for their pets.
While pet liability insurance is available in homeowners insurance packages, dog owners often have to opt in to get it. Doing so would drive up their premium, especially if their dog is a potentially dangerous breed, like a pit bull. The extra costs can deter dog owners, even if they are aware of the dangers of going uninsured.
Renters with pets are even less likely to have liability insurance that would cover dog bites. Unlike homeowners, they are not required to carry insurance on where they live. Those that do splurge for renters insurance can balk at liability coverage for their pets because of the costs.
Even insured dog owners can have policies with low limits
Even dog owners that do have renters or homeowners insurance that covers dog bites might not have enough coverage.
Most renters and homeowners insurance plans provide $100,000 in liability coverage. The average cost of an insurance claim for a dog bite, though, was $39,017 in 2018.1 Dog bites and attacks by larger dogs can cost even more. Some victims will suffer legal damages higher than $100,000. They can have to hold the owner personally liable for what the insurance policy will not cover.
Holding dog owners personally liable rarely recovers much
If there is no insurance to cover a dog bite, or if the insurance policy reaches its limit, victims are left holding the owner personally liable. This means the owner has to pay for the costs of a victim's dog bite out of their own pocket. Even if they were responsible for the injuries caused by the dog bite, they are unlikely to be able to compensate the victim
Unless the dog owner is wealthy, holding them personally liable will rarely recover much compensation. Most people do not have thousands of dollars in the bank account. For most people, the equity they have put in their home is their most valuable asset.
A dog bite lawyer can pursue that equity to compensate a victim for their losses. On top of an insurance policy, a home owner's equity can fully compensate a dog bite victim. On its own, though, it will probably only cover minor dog bite injuries.
Holding other parties liable becomes important
When the dog owner is uninsured or underinsured, it becomes important to search for someone else who was negligent. If someone else was negligent and played a part in causing your dog bite injuries, they can be held liable, too. Once held liable, they can be made to compensate you, in addition to the dog owner.
If the dog owner rents their property, the most common party to involve in a dog bite lawsuit is the landlord. Landlords can be held liable if they were aware of a dog's dangerous propensities but failed to take action. As the owner of the property, landlords have to take reasonable care to remove dangerous conditions.2 This can include a dog that is known to be violent.
Rules for residential and commercial landlords are different. In California, landlords that rent commercial property to businesses are required to make periodic inspections of the property. Residential landlords, on the other hand, are forbidden from intruding on their tenants.
Commercial landlords can be held liable if it is foreseeable that the dog would bite someone. It does not matter than the commercial landlord did not actually know of the dog's violence. If they should have been aware of the hazard, a landlord can be held liable for not removing a dangerous dog.3 This is to prevent commercial landlords from insulating themselves from liability by simply not inspecting their property.
Residential landlords are less likely to be held liable for a dog bite caused by a tenant's pet. In California, these landlords need actual knowledge of the dog's viciousness and an opportunity to remove the dog.4
Landlords can also be held liable for dog bites if they fail to take proper care of their property, and that leads to an injury. For example, victims can hold landlords liable for not repairing a broken fence that the landlord knew was used to confine a dog.5 Negligence like this can hold a landlord liable for a dog bite, even if it happened off the property.6
Other parties that can also be held liable for negligently failing to prevent a dog bite include:
- The victim's employer, through workers' compensation, if the bite happened on the job, and
- Store owners that allowed the dog on the premises.7
Insurance Information Institute, “Spotlight on: Dog bite liability.”
See Portillo v. Aiassa, 27 Cal.App.4th 1128 (Cal. App. 1994) (holding the landlord liable for bites caused by a dog owned by a commercial tenant).
Donchin v. Guerrero, Supra.