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Dog Owners Beware

An American insurance company thinktank is in the process of developing a home owners’ insurance policy that excludes coverage for injury or damage caused by your dogs.

Home owners’ insurance is designed to protect what is probably your biggest asset – your home. That’s not all it does. It protects you against liability for injury or damage you cause by accident anywhere in the world. More importantly, it protects the people hurt in that accident from bearing their loss all by themselves.

Careful dog owners spend the time necessary to ensure their dogs are trained and behave properly. Even so, dogs bite.

The Province of Ontario recognized that dogs were a unique hazard in contemporary society. They’re everywhere. They work for us, keep us safe and provide companionship. Even so, they bite. The Dog Owners’ Liability Act creates absolute liability on the dog owner. Years ago, the law of scienter applied. The law of scienter basically says that a dog owner gets the first bite free before she can be held accountable for a misbehaved dog. The dog owner could only be responsible if she knew that the dog had bad habits. The Dog Owners’ Liability Act changed all of that and took away the first free bite. It says that a dog owner is absolutely liable for the injuries caused by an owner’s dog no matter whether or not it’s the first time the dog has ever bitten someone.

Our home owners’ insurance and tenants’ insurance for rental premises have always protected us against the financial exposure of claims brought against us for the damage caused by our dogs. More importantly, those home owners’ policies have protected the people who suffered the injuries from bearing financial loss all on their own.

The American Association of Insurance Services (AAIS) is in the process of trying to develop standardized insurance policy forms to exclude coverage for loss caused by dog bite.

The exclusion would likely take the form of an endorsement. An endorsement is like an add-on to a policy. If the AAIS has its way, your insurance company may soon be asking you if you own a dog. If your answer is yes, it will probably stipulate that you agree to adding an endorsement to your policy that excludes coverage for damage or injury caused by your dog. You would be asked to sign the endorsement acknowledging that you understand the limitation on your policy.

Dog bites can cause serious injury. Scars on a child’s face can limit career potential. Bites to the back of the legs or the lower legs can cause continuing pain that interferes with an individual’s ability to walk or stand for extended periods of time. While not all dog bites are this serious, the potential for serious injury and therefore serious exposure for a homeowner and serious loss for a victim exist.

If the insurance industry is successful in developing dog exclusions for home owners’ policies, dog owners will need to take other steps to protect themselves. Individuals visiting homes with dogs will need to take extra steps to protect themselves from strange dogs. Municipalities will need to take extra care to ensure that dogs are not allowed to roam freely.

In the meantime, it’s vitally important for home owners and tenants to ensure that their liability insurance is up to date.

Contact Bergeron | Clifford LLP

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