How Does Insurance Work In Dog Bite Injury Claims?

Chris Davis
Founder, Davis Law Group
dog bite laws in washington state

Often times, dog bite victims suffer serious injuries and require significant medical care in order to treat those injuries. As a result, one of the biggest concerns for a person who has been bitten by a dog is whether the defendant has adequate insurance to pay for the victim’s damages.

Does Homeowners Insurance Apply In Dog Bite Cases?

Most homeowner insurance policies provide liability coverage in the event that the family dog attacks and injures someone. That being said, each homeowner's insurance policy is different and should be reviewed carefully before any assumption about particular types of coverage is made.

If the dog's owner does not carry a homeowner's insurance policy, or if their homeowner's insurance policy does not provide liability coverage for a dog bite or attack, then it is extremely unlikely that the dog bite victim will be able to receive compensation for damages.

Why Does Liability Insurance Matter In A Dog Bite? 

At Davis Law Group, P.S., we get calls from dog bite victims in and around Washington State nearly every single day. In situations where the victim has determined that the defendant does not have an applicable insurance policy, we are often asked, "Even if there is no insurance, can't you still sue the dog owner?"

Technically speaking, the answer is yes, you can still sue the dog owner for the damages resulting from your injuries. The problem is, lawsuits cost money; in many instances, they cost a lot of money. I’m not talking about attorney's fees, although that certainly adds to the cost of litigation.

These costs may include filing fees, expert testimony fees, investigative costs, charges assessed to collect medical and other important records, costs incurred to create trial exhibits, and deposition and court reporter expenses.

Even small cases can accrue costs of several thousand dollars. Since Washington State attorney ethics rules require that a client is always responsible for costs, an attorney has to be sure that the economic value of the case justifies the expected costs associate with litigation.

What Happens If the Dog Owner Doesn't Have Insurance?

When there is no liability insurance coverage available to file a claim against, there is no guaranteed source of recovery. This means the client may be stuck with several thousands of dollars of costs, even if he or she wins at trial.

Contrary to popular belief, a person who wins at trial will usually have to pay his or her own attorney and most of the costs. A win at trial only means you are entitled to a judgment against the person who is being sued. With a judgment, you can garnish a small portion of the person’s wages, or try to execute on the defendant’s personal assets.

But there are costs associated with these collection efforts, and again, there is no guarantee that you will be successful in recovering money, or enough money to pay the attorney for his or her time and effort spent in the collection. To make things even more difficult, the collection process can take a lot of time and effort. The person who was successfully sued may also file for bankruptcy, which may wipe out the judgment or the debt, leaving the victim with nothing but a worthless piece of paper.

Sadly, we see this scenario quite often when we are contacted by dog bite victims, and we are usually forced to explain that we will be unable to take on the case. Given the difficulties associated with the collection process, along with the sizable outlay of money necessary to pay the costs of litigation, most contingency fee lawyers will decline to accept a case unless there is an insurance policy to pay a verdict. Most attorneys will refuse to incur the thousands of dollars of expense and spend the hundreds of hours necessary to prepare the case and take it to trial when there is very little chance of a successful recovery.