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When the dog bites..whose covered?

When a dog bite happens, it is important to determine whether the person is legally liable for the bite, or the victim himself, is covered under a policy of insurance. There are different types of insurance that cover various situations, like owning a house, renting an apartment, driving a car, etc. The first step is to identify which type of policy might be involved (there might be more than one). The next step is to review the actual language of the policy.

There are two standard forms of homeowners insurance. However, do not assume that your insurance policy has any of the provisions mentioned here! You have to read your policy or retain an attorney to read it with you and tell you what it means. Your insurance agent or broker might also be able to tell you the broad strokes of the policy, but remember it is your agent or brokers job to sell the policy.

One of the standard forms was written by Insurance Services Office, Inc. It defines an "insured" as follows:

"Insured" means you and residents of your household who are:

a. your relatives; or
b. other persons under the age of 21 and in the care of any person named

"You" is defined as the named insured and his or her spouse, if the spouse is a resident of the same household. The following people are considered to be "insured":

-The named insured and his spouse (i.e., the person whose name is on the
policy declarations)
-Relatives of the named insured or spouse who are residents of his or her
-Non-relatives who are (a) residents of the household, (b) under 21, and (c)
under the care of the named insured or his spouse, or a relative of either of
them who is a resident of his or her house. Examples include a foster child,
a child living with a guardian, or a teenager or other child who is living at
the house.

The text of the standard policy by Insurance Services Office, Inc. goes on to include the following language pertaining to animals:

With respect to animals..., any person or organization legally responsible for these animals ... which are owned by you or any person included in [the definition given above]. A person or organization using or having custody of these animals in the course of a business or without the consent of the owner is not an insured.

If the attacking dog belongs to the insured or any other person defined above, the above quoted language provides coverage for anyone who has custody of the dog. Some examples would include:

A pet sitter (but not a paid pet sitter)
A dog walker (but not a paid dog walker)
A person who, without permission, takes the dog to the beach or a dog park

If the victim is an "insured" under the policy of the dog owner or other insured, the victim cannot get anything under that policy, because a person who is an "insured" cannot make a claim as a victim under his own policy.

A person who is renting some living space at the residence may be covered.


Suppose the potentially liable person is someone who was renting a room or a garage at the insured residence? The commonly used form provided by Insurance Services Office provides coverage if the rental did not exceed 90 days in the 12 months prior to the accident. Otherwise, there may not be coverage.

Operating a business

What if the liable person was operating a business at the residence? Examples might include a daycare. The commonly used forms exclude injuries arising out of or in connection with a business of the liable person, no matter where it is conducted.

Again, be sure to read your policy including the exclusions or ask you agent for points of clarification.

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Content copyright © 2013 by Denise M. Castille. All rights reserved.
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