The Legal Peril of Dog Ownership


As someone who has learned the lesson of good asset protection, and the role good insurance can play, I was a little shocked a few years back when my homeowners insurance was cancelled because of my dog.   It was nothing personal I was assured, just his breeding.

The deadly beast we’re speaking about is pictured to the left.   His name is Albus (yes, my son named him after a Harry Potter character), and he is an Akita.   He is about as big a marshmallow as a dog has ever been.   Unless you’re thinking about breaking into my house, in which case Michael Vick wanted to buy him, until Vick decided he didn’t feel safe around Albus.  

The whole insurance thing stinks of racism if you ask me, but I still had to wonder, what accountability I have when it comes to the actions of my dog?

I decided to consult my friend, Austin personal injury lawyer, Justin Demerath.   Here is what I asked him.

Q: Does the type of dog bred make a difference in a dog bit lawsuit?  I have an Akita, is that worse?

A: The type of dog does not matter that much.  If a dog looks really scary, a jury may be more apt to award damages, but technically it doesn’t make that much difference.  What really matters from a legal perspective as to whether there’s a good case or not is whether the owner lives in a city that has an ordinance that requires you to keep control of your dog (most do), whether the owner was on notice of the dangerous propensities of the animal, whether there’s significant enough injury to justify a case, and whether the dog owner is covered by an insurance policy, like a homeowners policy.

Q: What precautions can I take to help me in the event my dog does bite someone?

A: Don’t buy a dangerous breed (Pitbulls are the worst).  Train your dog.  Keep it under control.  If the damage has already been done, be sure that you get medical attention to the victim, alert your insurance company to the facts of the incident so they can start an investigation, and don’t admit fault.

Q:If my dog bites another dog at a dog park, am I liable?

A: If it’s an accidental injury caused in the act of playing with another dog at a dog park, there is probably no liability.  Most places have a one strike and you’re out rule.  If your dog mauls another dog for the first time in an area where the dog is not expected to be under your control, you are most likely not liable. If your dog mauls another dog after you have notice that the dog has dangerous propensities, your could face a valid claim for damages.

I’m not sure if this makes me feel better or worse.   If you look at the facts Malcolm Gladwell laid out in his New Yorker article, Troublemaker, the breed of the dog is far less of an indicator of aggression than the criminal record of a dog owner.   When you eliminate owners with criminal records, even the notorious Pittbull doesn’t really attack more than any other dog.   This leads to the simple conclusion that a-hole owners are likely to raise a-hole dogs.

But if you want to cover your assets, it’s best to still maintain as much insurance as anyone will sell you, and follow Mr. Demerath’s advice.


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