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Beware of Dog! A trend is emerging amongst homeowner’s insurance companies as they have begun to exclude animal coverage from homeowner’s policies. While we may think of our dogs as members or our family, insurers view dogs as animals; and if your homeowner’s policy excludes animals from coverage, you are gambling every time you open your front door. Most people never have to make a claim on their homeowner’s policy. We purchase such insurance primarily because our mortgage companies require it, and it covers the cost of rebuilding or repairing our homes in the event of a man-made or natural disaster. But homeowner’s insurance also protects you in the event you or your family members cause injury to someone. As a personal injury trial attorney. I know first-hand that claims against homeowners usually arise when the family dog causes an injury. We are not just talking about dog bites. Whether it is inside or outside your home, if Fido innocently scares someone as he bounds toward them, tail wagging, wanting to give them a big lick on the cheek, if Fido’s friendliness causes them to fall backwards; and if they hurt themselves, the law holds you responsible. If your homeowner’s policy does not provide animal coverage. you could be in big financial trouble.

Animal coverage is not just for those who own dogs. I have handled cases where pet monkeys have caused serious injuries. Horse owners should also make sure they have coverage.

There are two things you can do minimize your financial exposure. First, if’ you have a pet, make sure you have animal coverage included in your homeowner’s policy. The only way to know is by reading your policy. Don’t rely on the outline of coverage at the front of your policy. While the law requires your insurance company to outline the major policy exclusions, I’ve seen outlines that do not advise that animal coverage is excluded. Secondly. don’t rely on what your agent tells you. Your agent might be wonderful, but many agents don’t know that the major carries they broker policies for have begun to exclude animals from coverage.

Secondly, when it comes to dogs–especially if you have a large dog, post a “Beware of’ Dog” sign in a conspicuous place in the front or your home. The law makes you automatically liable when your dog causes injury to someone. The law does not, contrary to popular opinion, give your dog “one free bite.” Most injuries take place on the property of the home where the dog lives. However, if’ you have a sign, you are no longer automatically liable. In order to recover, the animal attack victim must prove that you ”ere negligent. In other words, the difference between having and not having a sign is automatic liability versus liability only if it can be proven that you failed to do something a reasonable person would have done. A sign will not protect you from liability if you allow your dog to roam freely outside your home. It will not protect you if you are walking your dog without a leash. The law is in a state of flux right now as to whether you can be held responsible to a trespasser injured by your dog. If you have a large prope1ty, it would be a good idea to have dog signs posted at regular intervals around your property.

Has your dog bitten someone before? Be extremely careful! Florida law allows you to be held responsible for punitive damages if your dog bites and has done so before. Your homeowner’s carrier does not cover you for punitive damages. What do you do if someone is injured because of your pet? After first aid has been administered, call your insurance company and repo11 what happened. Secondly, if you did post signs, take pictures of them so you can prove they were posted. If you have animal insurance included in your homeowner’s policy, your insurance company will handle the claim from there. When you finish reading this article, it would be a good time to review your policy. If you have an animal, especially a dog; and if your policy excludes animal attacks from its coverage, get a new insurance policy.