Dangerous Loophole in Dog Owners’ Insurance

Integrity Insurance created a loophole to avoid paying dog bite claims. They inserted an unusual clause in their homeowners’ policies. This clause states they won’t defend any customer from a dog bite claim if any “insurance claims records” or “records of a local public safety, law enforcement, or other regulatory agency” exist, showing the customer’s dog caused “bodily injury” in the past. This applies even if the customer didn’t know about the prior incident or records and even if the dog’s past behavior was different from the current incident. For example, if you adopt a dog from a shelter and the shelter didn’t inform you that the dog had bitten someone before, Integrity Insurance will deny your claim if your dog bites someone.

This goes against the main rule of dog bite law, which holds a dog owner liable only if they knew or should have known the dog had previously injured someone in a similar way. For instance, if a dog was stepped on and bit someone in reaction, the owner wouldn’t be liable under the one bite rule. But Integrity Insurance could refuse coverage if the dog bit someone again in a different situation.

This “one bite rule” is the law in every state. Some states have modified it to hold dog owners liable just for owning the dog, but no state makes a dog owner liable based on unknown paperwork in an insurance file or animal control record.

Dog owners should check their policies to see whether they contain a similar exclusion. In the Integrity Insurance policy, the exclusion provides that “we do not cover” “[b]odily injury or property damage caused by … [a]ny dog with a prior history of causing: (1) Bodily injury to a person,” which is “established through insurance claims records, or through the records of local public safety, law enforcement or other similar regulatory agency.” They key differences between this clause and the one bite rule which you have to look out for are (a) the clause is triggered by paperwork as opposed to the dog owner’s knowledge of the prior incident, and (b) the dog’s prior behavior does not have to be similar to what the dog did to cause the current injury.

(Whether you are a dog owner, a dog bite victim, a victim’s lawyer or simply interested in dogs and the law, bookmark DogBiteLaw.com to keep current and protect yourself!)