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When a Dog Bites, Who is the “Owner”?

Miami Homeowners’ Insurance Attorneys Discuss Liability for Dog Bites

Under Florida law, a dog owner is liable for damages their dog inflicts on another under certain circumstances.  Florida law defines a dog owner as any person that harbors, keeps, or has control or custody of the animal.  This is a fairly broad definition that can lead to challenging legal scenarios.  Dog bites are an important issue for homeowners because most dog bite victims will seek compensation through the homeowners’ insurance company.  At Greenberg, Stone & Urbano, we understand that homeowners’ insurance claims can be complex.  Our animal liability attorneys discuss below some of the issues that could arise for landlords or individuals who allow others with dogs to stay on their property.

Defining Owner for Homeowners’ Insurance Purposes

To determine liability for a dog bite, it is vital to uncover who owns the dog.  Most of the time, the owner of the dog will be the owner of the home where the dog resides, but there are numerous circumstances when this is not the case.  The Wisconsin Supreme Court recently addressed the issue of at what point, when one person’s dog is housed on the property of another, does the property owner become the “owner” for liability purposes.  The case is as follows:

In Augsburger v. Homestead Mutual Insurance Company, George Kontos purchased a piece of property in Wisconsin with the intention that his daughter and her family, the Veiths, would live there.  He purchased homeowners’ insurance as well.  The daughter and her family moved into the home when they were having financial difficulties.  They did not have a formal lease or pay rent.  The Veith’s moved in with two dogs, then adopted a third that had puppies, of which they kept three.  Kontos was not fond of the dogs but did not require his daughter to remove them.

Veith invited her friend to the property.  She had visited before, but this time she was attacked by four of the dogs while walking the property.  She sued the Veiths, Kontos, and the homeowners’ insurance company. The issue became whether the property owner, Kontos, could be considered an owner of the dog, and thus the homeowners’ insurance company would be liable.

The Wisconsin Supreme Court reviewed the issue and held that property owners should never be automatically assumed to be “harboring” a dog.  Rather, two vital factors should be considered when determining if a property owner “owns” the dog.  The first is whether the property owner lives on the premises with the dog, and the second is whether the owner of the dog is using the home more like a house guest, which is likely to be considered harboring, or a tenant, which is less likely to be considered harboring.  Ultimately, in this case, Kontos merely provided the property for the Veiths and did not actively harbor the dogs, and thus his homeowners’ insurance company did not bear liability for the attack.

Contact the South Florida Homeowners’ Insurance Attorneys at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano Today to Schedule Your Free Consultation!

If you need assistance with a homeowners’ insurance issue, please contact the Miami Homeowners’ Insurance Lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano.  Our attorney team offers client-centered help with your homeowners’ insurance claim.  Our firm will promptly investigate your case to uncover your legal rights.  At Greenberg, Stone & Urbano, we bring over 130 years of combined professional experience to your case.  Our skilled attorneys know homeowners’ insurance claims are complex and need knowledge assistance.  We have the honor of receiving an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and were named a Top South Florida Law Firm by the Miami Herald.  Call us today at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 to schedule your free consultation.  You can also contact us online.



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