Am. Family Mut. Ins. v. Williams – Homeowner Insurance Liability for Dog Attack

A May 2016 survey by the American Pet Products Association revealed there are approximately 78 million dogs owned as pets in the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that about 4.5 million people are bitten every year by dogs, with about 885,000 of those needing medical attention. Roughly half of those are children. dog4

In many cases, injured victims may seek compensation for these injuries through homeowners’ insurance policies. In fact, dog bite claims accounted for one-third of all homeowner insurance liability claims paid out last year, or a total of $570 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute. Further, dog bite claims increased by more than 7 percent last year, and the average cost-per-claim was up 16 percent over 2014. On average, insurers pay out $37,000 per dog bite claim.

While bites may be the most common pet-related injury we see as injury attorneys, they aren’t necessarily the only ones. Take the case of Am. Family Mut. Ins. v. Williams, recently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. 

According to court records, plaintiff, who was a college friend of two Indiana homeowners, was invited to stay as a guest in their home. One of the days he was there, his friends had to work so they left him at home in their house with their dog. Before they left, they informed their guest that their dog would be fine inside while they were away. However, if she wanted to go outside, the dog would inform the guest by ringing a bell near the front door. If she did this, he should let her out. They said nothing about walking her.

At around 10:30 a.m., the dog scratched on his bedroom door while he was watching television. He followed her downstairs and then clipped a leash onto her collar and took her outside. They returned without any trouble. Then about an hour later, he heard the bell near the front door. Again, he went downstairs and saw the dog whining. He put the leash on her collar and walked her out into the back yard.

He held onto her leash, when he suddenly heard a loud barking. It was another dog. Suddenly, his friend’s dog lurched forward toward the sound. Plaintiff was pulled to the ground as a result and seriously injured his shoulder.

He had to be hospitalized and underwent surgery.

Plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against his college friends, arguing they were negligent in failing to use reasonable care and protecting his safety while he was a guest in their home. At the time of the injury, defendants were insured by AmFam. That policy included a provision that guaranteed defense for claims of bodily injury that occurred in their home.

The policy did indicate it would not cover bodily injury suffered by any insured as a person who is legally responsible for an animal owned by an insured or a resident relative of the named insured.

Following the complaint, AmFam argued it should not have to indemnify the defendants because plaintiff had been responsible for the dog at the time of the incident and therefore he was an “insured.”

Trial court rejected this assertion, and the 7th Circuit affirmed. The court ruled that it, “made no sense” to treat plaintiff as if he were legally responsible for his own injuries that resulted from the actions of a dog he did not own in a house where he did not reside.

Therefore, the case will be allowed to continue and AmFam will be required to indemnify the defendants – and cover the damages if they are found liable.

Contact the Carolina injury lawyers at the Lee Law Offices by calling 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Am. Family Mut. Ins. v. Williams, Aug. 8, 2016, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

More Blog Entries:

Estate of Smith v. Salvesen – Guesthouse Fall Lawsuit, July 17, 2016, Spartanburg Injury Lawyer Blog

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