February 13, 2013

Risk Management & Dog Bites

There’s an old joke that dog bites only make the news if the headline is “Man Bites Dog.” Unfortunately, when people who live in or visit manufactured housing communities are attacked by animals owned by residents, it’s no laughing matter. That’s because operators of these properties can face significant insurance risks if injured parties can show that the community owner was at fault.

This danger is not theoretical: according to the Insurance Information Institute the average cost of a dog-bite claim is nearly $30,000. That’s a significant exposure for manufactured communities, but it’s one that can easily be mitigated.

As a first risk management step, communities should have policies in place to limit the possibility of dog attacks. These can include restrictions on the number of animals that residents can own, limits on the size of dogs and prohibitions on certain breeds associated with aggressive behavior. All of these rules will not only lower the risk of injury, but can also help reduce insurance exposure by demonstrating that a community has sound policies in place to protect residents.

Of course, rules don’t mean very much if they’re not enforced – and lawyers representing bite victims will look to show that an unsafe environment contributed to their clients’ injuries. Owners and managers need to be willing to prohibit residents from moving in with their pets if they don’t comply with their animal policies, and to make residents who violate the policies either comply with the rules or move.

The one major exception to this approach is the treatment of service animals, which are often exempt from rules affecting pets. When a resident states that his or her dog fills a medical need, managers need to be proactive about confirming that a dog is indeed a true “service animal” to best manage potential risk.  Operators who are faced with this situation may want to start by looking at this guide from the US Department of Justice that outlines what they can and cannot do – and what questions property managers are legally allowed to ask residents and prospective tenants. If owners of manufactured communities are unsure about how to handle a specific situation – such as determining if a dog is a “Service animal” or a “Guide animal” under titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), they should immediately contact their attorneys for advice.

There are many gray areas when it comes to minimizing the risks associated with dog bites, and there is no foolproof one-size-fits-all approach to make manufactured housing communities as safe as possible for residents and their guests. That’s why we at ProSight Specialty Insurance andPropel Insurance have joined forces to create the industry’s leading coverages so that owners of these communities can take advantage of our expertise, minimize their exposure by following best practices, and focus on what they do best: operating great communities.