Is My Dog Covered Under My Homeowner’s Policy?

Seattle may be famously dog-friendly, but there is a lot of uncertainty about whether or to what extent dog-related injuries are covered under traditional liability policies.  Homeowner’s coverage typically protects the insured against liability claims arising from injuries to other people for which the insured is legally responsible.  But policyholders are increasingly learning that dog bite injuries are excluded or limited under many homeowner’s insurance policies.

A recent study found dog-bite lawsuits have risen sharply over the last several years.  Dog bites were estimated to cost insurers over $9 million in Washington State in 2017.  These incidents reportedly constitute over a third of all homeowner’s claims.  Most claims involved dogs biting small children or other dogs.  Delivery-persons are also frequently involved in dog-bites – the increase in dog-bite claims over the past years has been linked to the increased prevalence of online shopping.  Many states and municipalities are adding laws making owners liable for injuries caused by their pets.  Legal fees and medical bills in dog-bite cases can be significant.

Dog owners often look to homeowner’s policies for coverage.  Typical homeowner’s policies cover any injuries for which the policyholder could be liable.  This would seem to cover dog bites in principal, but polices often exclude injuries caused by animals entirely or limit the number of claims that can be made related to injuries caused by a single animal. Or, some policies may limit coverage for certain breeds such as pit bulls or rottweilers.  In some instances, umbrella liability policies may cover pets or breeds excluded from homeowner’s coverage, but may have similar restrictions.

The upshot for dogs and their owners is to carefully review the terms of your homeowner’s coverage to confirm you have coverage if your dog injures other people or pets.

 

Insurance Coverage Uncertain for Hawaii Homeowners After Volcanic Eruption

Hawaii homeowners who incurred damage or lost their homes entirely now face uncertainty over whether their insurance will cover the damage.  The Seattle Times recently interviewed several Hawaii residents who expressed concern over whether they will have any coverage.  The eruption has so far destroyed about two dozen homes on Hawaii’s Big Island.  Authorities reported about 20 cracks in the ground spewing toxic gas and lava as of Tuesday.

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Sea-stacks on Cape Alava, near Ozette, Washington.

Few insurers write policies covering structures in the area because the U.S. Geological Survey classifies it as a high lava risk.  Homeowners may have been able to obtain coverage through the Hawaii Property Insurance Association, a nonprofit insurance group created by the state government to fill the gap in coverage for people living in lava risk areas.

Even people living outside the affected areas are questioning whether their policy covers lava damage.  While fire insurance policies may cover lava, homeowner’s policies often have explicit exclusions for lava damage.

This can lead to complex coverage questions: if lava causes a forest fire and the fire, not the lava, burns your house down, can the insurer deny payment based on a lava exclusion?  In Washington, the answer’s probably not.  Washington applies the “efficient proximate cause” rule that can ultimately require the company to cover a loss if the causal chain of events includes a covered loss, despite the involvement of an excluded cause.

Ultimately, insurance coverage issues will cause at-risk homeowners to suffer significant uncertainty in addition to existing concerns about natural disasters.