Ina Opperman

By Ina Opperman

Business Journalist

Why you should not ignore pet liability insurance

If your dog bites someone, will you be able to pay up if the victim claims?

Pet liability insurance is an often ignored aspect of liability insurance although you can end up having to pay huge claims if your dog bites someone and they take you to court for damages.

According to Hippo, a website that compares the prices of financial products, pet liability insurance is not exactly top of mind for animal owners, but when dogs bite, their owners may be forced to pay up.

That was the case for Christiaan van Meyeren, a Port Elizabeth dog owner, who was hit with a R2.4 million lawsuit when his three dogs attacked gardener and refuse collector Gerald Cloete so viciously that Cloete’s arm had to be amputated.

Cloete was simply walking through a residential suburb after completing a job when the dogs escaped from their open gate, which Van Meyeren claimed intruders had opened and attacked him. Van Meyeren tried to use the alleged intruders’ actions as a defence, but he lost the case.

According to court documents, Van Meyeren, who was not home at the time of the attack, had to pay compensation costs to the Cloete.

While most dog bite incidents are not as horrifying as this, there is always a chance that even the most sedate of dogs might bite someone. In that case, what are dog owners liable for?

Hippo says no matter how cute and cuddly your little Fluffy or Pudding may be, or how well trained your guard dog Spike is, it is in your best interests to check that their misdeeds are covered by your insurance.

ALSO READ: Dog attack victim claims R1,4 million in damages

Homeowners’ liability insurance may cover you

In addition, in the case of a guard dog, owners are expected to put a notice on their gates informing those who enter of the animal’s presence.

Most dog bites happen on private property. Depending on your policy and the particular case, your homeowner’s insurance might cover damages resulting from dog bites or other injuries caused by your animals on your property.

This would form part of the liability cover that is included in most homeowners’ insurance policies and which covers accidents or injuries that occur on your premises. Some policies may also cover any legal fees incurred should you choose to fight against a pet injury claim.

However, Hippo says, an insurer has the right to refuse a claim and that is why, unless you are absolutely sure your insurance will pay up, as a pet owner you should avoid verbally accepting liability or agreeing to cover the costs of any injury.

Homeowner’s insurance does not extend to injuries your animal inflicts away from your property, such as in the local park and therefore it is vital that you study the terms and conditions of your homeowner’s insurance policy as it could mean the difference between peace of mind and potential bankruptcy.

Prevention is always preferable, according to Hippo. “If your dog has obvious anger issues, it is up to you to address this, even if you have to enlist professional help in the form of a vet, dog trainer or animal behaviourist.

Read more on these topics

dog attack insurance

Access premium news and stories

Access to the top content, vouchers and other member only benefits