Are Dog Bites Covered by Homeowners Insurance?

January 7, 2015

 

Whether dog bites are covered by homeowner’s insurance is a question often asked. The answer is usually, yes. There are, however, numerous exceptions. In one recent personal injury case, the New Hampshire Supreme Court addressed an important one considering whether, in fact, the dog’s owner was a “resident” for purposes of homeowners insurance.

The dog bite in this instance occurred at a time when the dog’s owner was staying temporarily at his mother’s summer home.  The central question in the case was whether dog owner was a “resident relative” according to the language of the homeowner’s policy covering the house.

There were many facts connecting the dog owner to the New Hampshire home.  He lived there as a teenager.  He claimed the home as his residence during college.  He was a registered voter based on the residence.  He had a New Hampshire motor vehicle license, a car registered in New Hampshire, and a boating license.

As his primary residence, however, the dog owner identified Massachusetts where he owned property.  He claimed Massachusetts as his residence for tax purposes.

Analysis of the language of the policy hinged on the meaning of the word “resident”.  Here, the Court found that the dog owner referred to Massachusetts as his “residence” and that, even though he continued to have connections with the New Hampshire home, this was “due more to inertia than to any perception on his part that the Moultonborough home is his abode.”  The Court ruled, therefore, that the owner was not a “resident relative” and was not covered, therefore, under the homeowner’s insurance policy.

Key Point: know your coverage, so you know your potential exposure.

Source:  White v. Vermont Mutual Ins. Co., Dkt. No. 2013-569 (November 21, 2014)