Pets are like family for most of us, and we love them unconditionally. It may not have occurred to you that Buddy or Tiger could ever be a liability, but if your pet ever attacks someone for any reason, you could find yourself responsible for a big medical bill and possibly lose your beloved animal.
Most people think of dog bites when they think of potential injuries caused by pets. You probably think that your sweet mutt would never harm anyone, and that may well be true. However, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dogs bite more than 4.7 million people annually in the U.S., resulting in an estimated 800,000 injuries that require medical attention. More than half the bites occur on the dog owner’s property. The dog bite victim may choose to press charges and/or file a civil suit against you.
While you may or may not be legally ordered to cover the victim’s medical expenses, it’s probably a good idea to offer in any case. You will be showing responsibility for your dog’s actions, and may help avoid a nasty lawsuit. It’s also the responsible thing to do, even if you have an explanation for the dog bite. In reality, proving your dog was provoked or somehow justified will be difficult unless it can be proven that the victim was committing a crime. Particularly if the victim is a friend, family member, or neighbor—as is the case with many dog bite injuries—you might want to avoid having this argument.
Dog bites aren’t the only danger posed by a pet. People trip over their own or others’ pets fairly often, and more stumbles lead to serious injury than you might think. Falls from tripping over or otherwise colliding with a pet, serious enough for treatment in emergency rooms, averaged nearly 87,000 per year in the U.S. between 2001 to 2006, according to the CDC. Pet snakes can cause injury and even death to humans and other pets. Reptiles can transmit salmonella and other diseases. Exotic pets are become ever-more popular in the U.S.; there are more tigers kept as “pets” than exist in the wild—and the potential for harm can be fairly high due to mishandling and lack of knowledge about exotic creatures.
Insurance for You and Your Pet
Homeowners’ insurance should include liability coverage which will cover pet-inflicted injuries or property damage. If you’re renting a home, renter’s insurance will typically include some liability coverage and a minimal amount of medical and property damage coverage. Since the law does not require insurance policies to cover pet-related damages or injury, some insurance companies will specifically exclude pet-related incidents. It’s worth shopping around if you’re a pet owner, and possibly paying for higher benefits or an umbrella policy if you’re concerned your pet might be involved in an incident.
Some insurance companies will refuse policies to people with certain “high-risk” animals or specific breeds of dogs that have a reputation for biting, such as pit bull terriers, Siberian huskies, Rottweilers, Akitas, and Chow-Chows. In this case, pet owners may need to purchase specific pet liability insurance.
Other types of insurance can protect pet owners in various other circumstances. Automobile liability insurance may cover dog bites or other pet-related injuries that happen in a car. Your landlord may have insurance that protects the property owner from claims that result from a tenant’s pet, but these will not protect the pet owner. Businesses that require interacting with animals will have commercial liability policies, and someone injured by a pet animal on the job may be able to claim workers’ compensation.
What This Means for You
As a pet owner, you can definitely be held liable for any injury your animal causes to someone, whether on or off your property. Whether or not the injured person “provoked” the animal is very difficult to prove, particularly if there aren’t reliable, impartial witnesses. If your animal wasn’t properly restrained, you could be sued for negligence and be liable for the other person’s medical and legal cost in any case, as well as on the hook for pain and suffering.
It’s in your best interest—as well as that of your friends, family, and neighbors—to make sure your home or renters’ insurance doesn’t exclude pet-related injury and property damage. If it does, look into purchasing a rider or umbrella policy, or even pet-specific liability insurance. This is this best guarantee that you, your property, and your pet will be protected in case the unthinkable happens.
John is a Jacksonville native who grew up on the First Coast. He graduated from Bishop Kenny High School in 1975 and went to college at Florida State University where he completed a 4-year program in 3 years. John graduated from the Florida State University College of Business in 1978 and went straight into Florida State University College of Law. While in law school, John earned a position on the prestigious Law Review Board serving as its Business Editor. As a law student, John studied in the Oxford program. He also interned with the Florida Legislature working in the Florida House of Representatives Criminal Justice Committee. John was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1981.
John began his legal career as a law school intern in the State Attorney's Office in Jacksonville in 1981. After his internship, legendary State Attorney Ed Austin hired John as a full-time Assistant State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit (Clay, Duval, and Nassau Counties). As a prosecutor, John tried jury and non-jury trial on charges ranging from DUI to Murder.
In 1983, John moved from the State Attorney's Office to begin his career in private practice. He has practiced law for 30 years on the First Coast. For the last 20 years, John and his family have made Clay County their home.
John limits his practice to personal injury and disability cases. While there are many fine attorneys in Clay County, John is one of only a few Clay County attorneys who limit their practice to personal injury and disability cases. John takes pride in helping clients resolve injury claims in ways that avoid the stress, uncertainty, and the expense of unnecessary litigation.
John is the past President of the Clay County Bar Association and has served on the Board of the Clay County Bar Association from 2009-2013. He is an active member of the Florida Bar, and the Federal Bar of the Middle and Southern Districts of Florida. He is also a member of the American Association of Justice, the Florida Association of Justice, the National Organization of Social Security Claimants' Representatives, and the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates.
Service to the Community
John is involved in the Clay County Community serving as a member and Director of the Rotary Club of Orange Park, of the Clay County Bar Association, and the Putnam County Bar Association.
The information provided on this web site is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be interpreted as legal advice. Every case is different and requires individual attention before such advice can be given. Neither the transmission nor receipt of general advice to or from our website will constitute an attorney-client relationship.