Your family is invited to a backyard barbecue by a co-worker, and while you are there, her dog bites your three-year-old's face. Naturally, your first response is to take your child to the emergency room for treatment. The dog was up-to-date on his vaccinations, so there is no need for rabies shots, but your little one leaves the hospital with several stitches in the cheek and lip.
ER expenses, ongoing medical treatments and scar removal are not going to be cheap, even with health insurance. Will your co-worker have to help you cover these costs?
The owner of the dog is automatically liable for any damages suffered if the animal attacks someone who is there on official federal or state business, such as a postal worker or police officer. However, the statute does not mention situations like yours.
The Insurance Information Institute explains that it is very likely your co-worker's homeowners or renters insurance policy provides coverage for damages related to the dog bite. In fact, insurance companies that provided this coverage paid out more than $686 million in 2017 for dog-related liability claims. The average cost for a claim last year was $37,051, but most policies have a limit between $100,000 and $300,000, so even if your son or daughter needs extensive care, the policy will probably cover it.
Your co-worker never mentioned it before, but after a little investigation, you discover that her dog bit another child a couple of weeks ago. The bite caused a few scratches, but nothing deep, so everyone decided not to worry about it. However, if you had known this, you likely would have hired a babysitter and left your child at home.
If you take your case to court, a judge or jury may agree with you that the owner had a responsibility to warn you, and therefore, she is liable for all the damages the dog caused. Dog bite liability cases can be complicated, though, so it is important to get all the facts before deciding to take this course of action.