I like to think of myself as a good neighbor. I tell my kids to keep it down when they are hanging out on the patio late in the evening. I lend an egg or cup of sugar when needed. I pick up the newspapers sitting in the driveway across the street so they don’t pile up and advertise to passersby that no one is at home. My kids have fed and walked a neighbor’s dogs when they are away for a day or two over a weekend, or on vacation. It was a great way for them to earn a little extra money when they were too young for “real” jobs.
But, as a consequence of my job in claims, the last neighborly activity gives me pause. What if one of those dogs was to snip at a child on one of those walks? What if the little woman who walks through our neighborhood every day was frightened by one of the dogs’ barking and fell trying to get away?
You may be wondering why I worry. In many areas, dog bite (and even “dog fright”) incidents can lead to large jury verdicts. There are still a few places where you and Fido get “one free bite,” meaning that if the dog has never exhibited hostile behavior toward humans and has never bitten in the past, you may not be held liable for the first incident involving that dog. In contrast, in other areas, certain types of dogs are labeled as “dangerous” and simply owning a dangerous breed exposes you to liability, even when the dog is leashed, and sometimes even when the dog is in its own yard. In one of those cases, the dog in question was fenced in his own yard and the injured party on the other side of the fence!
Homeowners policies usually provide liability coverage for claims involving animals, but it is important to realize coverage may be limited or excluded by endorsement. Knowing we have had a few incidents on the block with dogs getting a bit out of hand, I cannot help but worry that I may have some neighbors who might not have liability coverage for injury or property damage caused by their pets. If this is the case, whoever is responsible for the animal when it is involved in a bite or fright incident could find the injured party looking to them for payment.
Because dog-walking and dog-sitting are favorite summer jobs for school-age children, parents need to be sure the owner of the dog involved has adequate coverage should an incident occur. Otherwise what seems like a simple summer job could turn into a legal nightmare for all concerned. In the meantime, it’s always a good idea to review dog safety tips with your children.