If my dog bites someone, will my insurance cover court damages?

Dog owners can be left paying tens of thousands in court damages if their dog bites someone

Most insurance companies offer cover for domestic dogs under a policy holder’s home insurance. Photograph: iStock

Most insurance companies offer cover for domestic dogs under a policy holder’s home insurance. Photograph: iStock

 

A dog bite can be a gruesome and often freak accident, it can leave victims with serious injuries, and the dog owner facing a large legal bill for compensation.

In general, a pet owner’s home insurance will also cover damage caused to a member of the public by a domestic pet, including a dog bite. However breeds listed as “dangerous dogs” in Ireland are not covered if they bite a member of the public.

In July a woman who was attacked by two boxer dogs was awarded €234,000 by the High Court, and in March a postman was awarded €100,000 after he was bitten by a German Shepherd while delivering the post. Back in April a young schoolgirl was awarded €20,000 in damages by the Circuit Civil Court after being bitten on the face by a Labrador.

Padraig Lynch, director of Chill Insurance, who compare insurance providers, said most insurance companies offer cover for domestic dogs under a policy holder’s home insurance.

He said incidents where a homeowner’s dog bites someone are rare. “You see it from time to time, but not a huge frequency of it. One common victim would be a postman. It’s not often but they do happen” he said.

‘Dangerous Dogs’

Home insurance cover for dog bites however, does not cover “dangerous dogs”. Under the Control of Dogs regulation, ten breeds of dog are branded as “dangerous”. These are: American Pit Bull Terrier, English Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Bull Mastiff, Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd (Alsatian), Rhodesian Ridgeback, Rottweiler, Japanese Akita, Japanese Tosa, and the Bandog.

Under the legislation these breeds of dogs must have a muzzle on when out in public, a strong, short lead, and the dog walker must be over 16 years old.

Mr Lynch said some insurance providers exclude these breeds of dogs totally from insurance cover, while others will cover the dogs if the owner meets the regulations of the act, such as muzzling them in public.

If a dog owner does not have home or pet insurance, or if the breed of dog is not covered then they will be liable to pay any court damages from a dog bite out of their own pocket. Court awards for damages from dog bites can range from tens, to hundreds of thousands of euro, meaning homeowners can be faced with remortgaging their home and huge costs if their dog bites a member of the public.

Allianz Insurance said their home insurance policy covers dog bites, and the maximum payout available under the policy is €3.1 million including legal fees. The Irish insurer also offers pet insurance, which covers dog bites and claims up to €250,000.

Muzzled

A spokesman for Allianz said their home cover does not have liability for the dangerous dog breeds, “unless such dogs are, at all times, muzzled, under effective control, and capable of identification.”

In the case of a compensation claim from a dog bite, the animal will likely not have been wearing a muzzle so the insurance will not cover any damages.

Padraig Lynch of Chill Insurance said people need to be more aware of what their insurance covers, and what it does not. “A lot of people don’t know what they’re covered for until something happens. It’s important to check” he said.

A recent study of 140 dog biting incidents published in the Irish Veterinary Journal found there was “no significant difference” between the level of medical treatment required from a dog bite between ‘dangerous dog’ breeds and other breeds.

The study stated that the Irish law’s focus on specific breeds rather than aggressive behaviour in individual dogs was out of date. The study concluded that dogs identified as aggressive need to be targeted and their owners should bemandated to attend training classes.