Any well-behaved dog is unfortunately likely to cause damage to a third party. When this happens, you may be caught off guard and not know what to do. Here’s how to handle it. This article excludes the particular cases of hunting dogs and so-called “dangerous” dogs whose possession requires special procedures and insurance.
The dog has caused damage: who is responsible for it?
The law states that “the owner of an animal, or the person who uses it, (…) is responsible for the damage that the animal has caused, whether the animal was in his custody, or whether it was lost or escaped”.
If you are having trouble interpreting this sentence, here are a few details to clear up any doubts you may have. If the dog is in the hands of its owner, it is the owner’s responsibility, even if the dog has caused damage while wandering. But if the dog is in the custody of another person, it is the responsibility of this other person who intervenes, and there again, even if the animal has escaped: this is called a transfer of responsibility.
However, this concept still needs some clarification.
Custody is transferred when the owner of a dog entrusts his animal permanently to a third person, including family members. But it also occurs during an occasional custody for vacations, for example, involving that the person lodges and feeds the animal during several days.
However, the jurisprudence is subtle: if a person intervenes at the owner’s home in his absence, or if he only walks the animal, his responsibility is not engaged, there is no transfer of responsibility.
Identify the third party involved
The damages caused by a dog to a third party may be covered by the civil liability guarantee included in the comprehensive home insurance policy taken out for his home, but not all of them. First of all, you should know that when you take out the insurance, it is a good idea to indicate the presence of the animal in your home so that the insurer is not surprised in case of an accident. If the dog does not join the household until later, contact the insurer to update your contract.
The insurer’s coverage depends on the identity of the third party and, once again, you must be precise.
For multi-risk home insurance, third parties refer to all persons, except those named in the contract. Thus, any person living under your roof and mentioned in the contract is not a “third party” and is not covered by the insurance. If one of your children is bitten, you will not be able to get anything for any moral or aesthetic prejudice (medical expenses are covered by the Health Insurance and possibly your complementary mutual insurance).
This is why it is advisable to subscribe to options or extensions of guarantee that can cover this type of accident. This can be called “life accident guarantee” or “family protection”.
Another case is that of a person who has kindly accepted to keep a friend’s dog for a few days. If the dog causes damage to a neighbor’s house, he can contact his comprehensive home insurance. However, care must be taken because some insurance policies only cover animals that the policyholder actually owns, and not those that are temporarily living in the home. If the dog damages something in the home, no insurance (except those expressly contracted beforehand to cover this type of situation) will be able to intervene since we are back to the case where the household and its members are excluded from the guarantees. The civil responsibility of the owner will not intervene either, since the animal was not under his custody. The person who kept the dog can only count on the goodwill of the dog owner to contribute financially to the repair of the damage caused by his dog.
The situation is different when the animal is entrusted to a professional: whether it is for a grooming or a guarding and care service in a kennel, the intervening party is covered by a professional insurance adapted to his profession.
What steps should be taken?
As in the case of any claim, a declaration to the insurance company must be made in due form. Contact your insurer so that he can send you a model declaration if necessary. In addition, you must document the damage and take photos, and collect testimonials to prove the facts. If large sums of money are involved, an expert may be appointed by the insurer. You must be able to justify each element of your claim. For material damages, you must produce invoices attesting to the value of the goods affected.
Depending on the contract signed with the insurer, there may be a deductible that will be deducted from the amounts retained in the insurer’s calculation. When this is the case, not all insurance companies handle the situation in the same way. It may be up to the person responsible for the damage to pay the amount of the deductible to the victim’s insurer, but the amount of the deductible may sometimes be left out of the insurers’ hands, leaving the parties to settle this part of the transaction between themselves.
Please note that such claims cannot result in any malus or cancellation of insurance for the pet owner.
The special case of bodily injury
If the damage created by the dog is bodily injury, it is necessary to make a declaration to his insurance, as we have indicated above.
The next step is slightly different because the victim then receives a questionnaire in which he/she must specify all the damages he/she identifies: physical, aesthetic, moral, financial, etc. This person must precisely justify his statements with medical certificates and invoices.
If the damages are significant, a medical advisor will make a control visit to ensure the veracity of the statements and to evaluate the amount of compensation to be paid to the victim. If the victim files a complaint, the compensation will be suspended pending the criminal decision.
In the event of prosecution, the person responsible for the dog at the time of the incident may be fined, which cannot be covered by any insurance.
However, the person accused may be able to provide evidence that would relieve him of responsibility, such as inappropriate behavior on the part of the victim (threatening or exciting the dog) or the intervention of a third party (who would have facilitated the situation, such as improperly closing a gate or voluntarily opening it, which would have allowed the animal to escape and thus the accident).
If there has been a bite, whatever the situation, whatever the circumstances, a declaration must be made to the town hall. This can be done by the person who had the surveillance in his commune of residence.
Any professional who has knowledge of the event in the exercise of his functions (doctor, insurer, veterinarian, …) can also make the step. The dog must then undergo a behavioral evaluation by a veterinarian chosen from a departmental list. The costs of this evaluation are to be paid by the dog owner.
Finally, the dog must be monitored by a health veterinarian to verify that it is not a carrier of the rabies virus