“Why is a dog such a liability bomb?”

Daniel Fisher looked into the issue of dog bite liability after a utility worker’s suit charged him with failure to confine his dog (which was in fact confined by an electric fence) setting off a scramble at insurance renewal time to find a way both to keep his house insured and not lose his beloved pet.

Why is a dog such a liability bomb? Blame lawyer-friendly state laws that make it almost impossible to contest a dog-bite claim, especially when there are only two witnesses to the incident and one of them isn’t talking. Dog bite claims now account for a third of homeowners’ insurance liability payouts, according to the Insurance Information Institute, at more than $530 million a year, up more than 75% since 2003. Some of the most devastating claims don’t even involve bites: A $100,000 “dog bite” claim might stem from someone running from the dog and tripping in your driveway. Dog-human contact is not required.


  • […] At overlawyered.com, Walter Olson posts some distressing findings: […]

  • The article was dishonest in the extreme. The author interviewed me to get the real facts about dog bite cases, and this is what I told him:

    Of the 885,000 Americans who receive medical treatment for dog bites every year (see note 1 below), only 16,000 receive compensation from liability insurance companies (see note 2). Yes, just two percent.

    Dog bite victims sustain at least $1 billion in losses per year (see note 3), but liability insurance companies pay only $570 million in total damages and defense costs (see note 4). Quite a bargain for insurance companies.

    I am familiar with these numbers because I am an attorney who handles nothing but dog bite cases throughout the USA. Here are the sources of my information:

    1. Gilchrist, J.; Sacks, J.J.; White, D.; Kresnow, M.J. “Dog Bites: Still a Problem?” Injury Prevention, October 2008, Vol. 14, Issue 5, 296-301.

    2. Insurance Information Institute. “Dog Bite Liability.” May 2016. Retrieved 7/20/2016 from http://www.iii.org/issue-update/dog-bite-liability

    3. Voelker, R. “Dog Bites Recognized as Public Health Problem.” J. American Medical Association 1997; 277(4); 278-280. doi: 10.1001/jama.1997.03540280016009

    4. Insurance Information Institute. “Dog Bite Liability.” Ibid.

  • The author also tries to gloss over the fact that, while he wasn’t home, an animal in his ownership and control bit a utility worker who was trying to do his job. Invisible fences do not protect the public, who were put in danger while Fisher was out and left his dog unsupervised in the yard. Get a fence. And then the author has the gall to claim that the injuries “may or may not have been caused” by his dog, essentially accusing the utility worker of insurance fraud without any proof. Had he supervised his dog, there would have, of course, been another witness.

    I also thought it was odd that he made a point of mentioning the lineman’s household income in the article as if it was relevant.

  • Which is why I have an enormous red cat who scares the hell out of people, but is really just a big wuss who wants you to stroke his ears.

  • My dad, a 34 year judge, answered all of of our childhood ” can we get a dog?” Inquiries with a terse ” no four legged lawsuits in this house” answer, in the 70s…

  • “Conventional wisdom says dogs get one free bite…”

    However does the dog owner think this is proper. Perhaps he can be the first to donate a pound of flesh.

    As for stating the the lineman was uninvited: The electric company is responsible for the wires as they lead up to the house and the meter, and the homeowner owns the wires at the house and the junction box the meter is attached to. It seems as if he has already granted leave for the lineman to service the lines merely by contracting for electricity.

  • “However does the dog owner think this is proper.”

    1. The “dogs get one free bite” is more about criminal penalties against the owner and / or ordering a vicious dog destroyed or removed from the jurisdiction than civil liability to the victim.

    Most jurisdictions require at least two incidents before a dog can be declared vicious.

    2. Not all dog bites are unprovoked.

    Shouldn’t a dog be allowed to defend itself?

    Why should the owner of the dog be liable for a provoked bite?

    I’ve read about a case where a pit-bull was ordered put down for a bite. The bite was the result of a fight between two dogs, the pit-bull and a German Shepherd. The owner of the German Shepherd was bit trying to break up the fight and then filed a complaint against the owner of the pit-bull.

    It came out later that the owner of the German Shepherd was bit by her own dog and that it was the German Shepherd that attacked the pit-bull, not the other way around. Despite this information, it was the pit-bull that was declared vicious and ordered to be destroyed.

  • Is the rate of dog bites actually going up with the population explosion of pitbulls that we’ve seen the last 10 years?