Insurer Not Required to Defend Homeowners in Personal Injury Lawsuit Following Dog Bite

A New Mexico federal court recently ruled that a homeowner’s insurance policy did not cover a dog bite occurring outside of the homeowner’s premises.  A woman was injured after she took two dogs out for a walk on a leash.  She and the leashed dogs were allegedly attacked outside of their home in Albuquerque by two American Pit Bull Terriers who lived with their owners about 2.7 miles away.  The attack resulted in the woman sustaining bodily injuries and her husband experiencing injury in the form of a loss of consortium.

The injured parties sued their neighbors in New Mexico state court, and the neighbors’ insurance company defended the neighbors under a homeowner’s insurance policy.  The insurance company then initiated proceedings in New Mexico federal court, seeking a declaration that it was not required to defend or indemnify its insureds in that suit, a dog bite case.

To resolve the dispute, the federal court reviewed the terms of the insurance policy at issue and the parties’ competing positions on availability of coverage.

The court focused on the provisions of the insurance policy concerning coverage for bodily injury claims, which stated: “Coverage F-Premises liability applies to bodily injury and property damage only if the bodily injury or property damage occurs on your premises and during the policy period shown on the Declarations page.”  The court observed that the parties agreed that the dog attack and resulting bodily injuries did not occur on the premises of the insured homeowners.  The attack occurred miles away, off of the premises.

The insured homeowners argued unsuccessfully that the allegedly negligent act of letting their dogs loose occurred on their premises and, therefore, they should receive coverage under their homeowner’s policy.  The court rejected this position as being contradictory to the express language of the homeowner’s insurance policy at issue, which provided coverage for third-party bodily injury, “only if the bodily injury or property damage occurs on your premises and during the policy period shown on the Declarations page.”

The insured homeowners also argued that their homeowner’s insurance policy was ambiguous and that ambiguities should be construed against their insurance company.  The court faulted the homeowners for not explaining how the policy language was ambiguous and rejected this argument.  The court also rejected the insured homeowners’ argument that they were covered because they believed they were purchasing full coverage and were not advised of an exclusion for dog bites occurring off of the premises by the insurance agent.

The court was of the view that the homeowner’s policy at issue was clear and unambiguous and did not provide coverage for injuries occurring off premises.  Accordingly the court concluded that the insurance company had no duty to defend or indemnify the homeowners in connection with the state court lawsuit brought by their neighbors.

If you or a loved one has been injured in an accident, or has incurred property damage due to the fault of a third party, there may be grounds for a recovery of monetary damages.  Collecting monetary damages can help people with out-of-pocket costs, including medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.  To understand more about your case and how it can be pursued in ways that maximize your recovery, call New Mexico personal injury lawyer Matthew Vance at the Law Office of Matthew Vance, P.C.  We provide a free consultation and can be reached at (505) 242-6267 or online.