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Homeowners Policy Covered Both Mother And Son's Dog Bite Injuries

Under Florida law, dog owners are strictly liable for injuries that occur because they do not have control of their pet. Often such claims for dog bites will be handled by a homeowners insurance policy. While such a claim may seem like a straightforward request, insurance companies may still balk at paying what is fair.

For example, in the recent Florida District Court of Appeal case of Maddox v. Florida Farm Bureau General, a mother and her son, injured in a dog attack, found the insurance company trying to avoid paying for the mother's serious injuries.

A Dog Attacks A Woman And Her Son

A woman and her two sons lived with her boyfriend and his two dogs in the boyfriend's home. The woman was dressing one of her sons when she heard her other son scream from the other room. One of the dogs had bitten the child in the face and would not let go. When the dog finally released the child, the dog then bit the woman in the face as well.

The boyfriend had a homeowners policy providing $100,000 in coverage for each "occurrence." The woman sought damages from the insurance company for her injuries. The insurance company argued it was not liable for the injuries to the woman, since the $100,000 limit had already been reached by the injuries to her son, and all the injuries were part of the same occurrence.

The trial court found in favor of the insurance company, holding that the dog bite injuries were caused by one single occurrence. The woman appealed this decision.

Were The Two Dog Bites Two Different Occurrences?

The Florida District Court of Appeal noted that, in the absence of explicit insurance policy language to the contrary, Florida law follows the "cause theory," which looks to the cause of a party's injuries in order to determine the number of occurrences. In addition, any ambiguous provisions in an insurance policy must be construed against the insurer.

While the insurance company argued that the dog attack constituted one occurrence, there was no unambiguous language in the policy to put the insured on notice that a series of similar causes would be considered one occurrence.

Because the insurance policy could be interpreted in two different ways — either that the dog attack as a whole was one occurrence or that each individual dog bite was an occurrence —the language had to be construed against the insurance company.

Therefore, each individual dog bite that resulted in a separate injury was a separate occurrence, meaning that the insurance company might be liable for the injuries to the woman as well. The judgment of the trial court was reversed.

Seek Legal Representation

An insurance company's primary goal is to limit your compensation. No matter how "straightforward" your case might appear initially, you should not speak with an insurance company without legal representation. Whether you were injured by a dog attack or in some other manner, seek advice from an experienced personal injury attorney to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve.