Who Is Liable in a Dog Attack?
Interviewer: Who is going to be liable for a dog attack?
Most Homeowner Policies Cover Damage from Dog Attacks
Stephen Boutros: The vast majority of homeowner policies do cover dog attacks. There are some kinds of rare circumstances where people will have excluded coverage for dog attacks, trying to get their insurance premium a little cheaper.
But that almost never happens because the biggest risks that people have in their home for liability are pools, dogs, and trampolines. Obviously the whole reason you have homeowner’s insurance is to protect yourself from personal liability, in case someone is hurt in your home. So, if you have a dog, it’s foolish to exclude that coverage. You should have that coverage.
Most of the recovery is made through homeowner’s insurance. Occasionally I’ve had examples of businesses having dogs on the premises and that circumstance and the business insurance will cover as long as the proper allegations are made. It’s failure to provide a safe workplace, because the dog was on the premises.
Business Have General Liability Protection to Cover Damage from a Dog Attack
Businesses have what’s called a CGL, a commercial general liability policy. If someone is attacked by a dog on a business premise, as lawyers we have to make the right allegations to trigger that insurance coverage.
What Compensation Might You Be Entitled to after a Dog Attack?
Interviewer: What would a victim of a dog attack be entitled to?
Disfigurement, Which Is Common in a Dog Bite Injury, Is Compensable
Stephen Boutros: The damages that people are entitled to in Texas are compensation for losses, which include medical bills, lost wages, physical pain, physical impairment, and physical disfigurement. Many times I see injuries that don’t involve disfigurement. However, dog bites always will involve disfigurement because they involve tearing of flesh, and lacerations that heal with scarring.
That’s what disfigurement is, the change in the physical appearance of your body. There will be medical bills involved. I always send the clients to medical experts, board certified plastic surgeons, who will give estimates on what the scar revision will ultimately cost.
Pain and Suffering May Also Be Compensable
When I make a recovery on a dog bite case, we’re seeking past medical bills, obviously compensation for pain and suffering, mental anguish, any impairment if the person was unable to do the things that they normally do in their life.
Disfigurement is another element that has to be recovered for. The future medical bills are important. Frequently, health insurance companies won’t cover scar revision. They consider it to be aesthetic. So it’s very important that you make a recovery on liability insurance so that you have the money to pay for the scar revision following the dog bite.
It Is Common to Be Undecided to File a Suit Involving a Friend or Relative but the Recovery comes from the Person’s Insurance, Not Out-Of-Pocket
Interviewer: Have you ever worked with an individual that is hesitant to pursue a case for whatever reason? What would that reason be if they were?
Stephen Boutros: Yes, occasionally. If you have a situation where you were at a relative’s house or a friend’s house and their dog attacked you, it is common to be undecided about filing a suit. There’s some hesitation, but we always explain to our clients that the recovery that we’re seeking is from the health insurance.
It doesn’t come from your relative personally or your friend personally, but from their liability insurance, under their homeowner’s insurance. That’s the whole reason they pay for that insurance.
What Happens to the Animal after an Attack?
Interviewer: For anyone that’s worried about that, that’s something that could be a little bit of a relief to them. What happens to the actual animal?
Dog Attacks Should Be Reported to Animal Control
Stephen Boutros: Dog bites should always be reported to animal control so that records can be accurately kept. A determination is usually made by a judge in a case brought by animal control as to the disposition of the dog. If the dog is deemed to be unreasonably dangerous, then it may be euthanized.
But there are other occasions where the dog is taken in to quarantine. The steps are this: the first thing is you report to animal control, they take the dog in to quarantine. They do testing on the dog to find out if the dog had rabies or any time of communicable disease, then there’s a judicial determination made as to the disposition of the dog.
In certain circumstances it can be returned to the custody of the owner, but then the owner needs to take safeguards to protect innocent people from the dog. There is no one free bite rule. That’s a myth kind of out in society. The first time a dog bites, the owner’s not responsible. That is not true. The owner is always responsible, if the owner was negligent in any way contributing to the dog attack, or the dog bite.
With regards to the second time a dog attacked then the owner’s got strict liability at that point. The liability’s automatic. Your dog bites once, anything that dog does after that is just automatic, strict liability.
The Psychological Effects of a Dog Attack
Interviewer: In your experience, from a victim’s perspective, what sort of psychological effects have you seen someone endure?
Stephen Boutros: They’re terrible because a breach has been made between animal and human at that point. Animals are here to serve us in one way or another, whether that’s friendship or actual service in one way or another. When an animal breaches that and attacks a human, that human for the rest of his or her life is going to be fearful that another animal will breach that line. Once people have been attacked, then they become fearful of dogs.
It Can Be Difficult to Recover from the Fear of a Repeat Animal Attack
Almost every single client I’ve ever had that’s been attacked by a dog, has always said that they’ve had recurring nightmares about animal attacks. It introduces fear in to someone’s life that wasn’t there before. Even if it was there before, it wasn’t there to the same degree. If you talk to animal attack victims, they never recover mentally because they become much more fearful.