Owner of dog in Arizona has strict liability for dog bites

Question: We wanted to sell our Glendale home, so we contacted a local real estate agent who “farmed” our neighborhood. This real estate agent came to meet us at our home to sign the listing papers. Our son had left the back gate open, and our dog severely bit the real estate agent’s foot in our front yard. We then drove the real estate agent to the emergency room.  We understand that she had minor plastic surgery the next day. The agent was very upset with us for not warning her about our dog, and even returned the flowers we sent to her in the hospital.

We now have a letter from her lawyer wanting to know the name of our homeowner’s insurance company. Our dog had never bitten anyone before, even when she was teased by small children. Are we liable for this real estate agent’s injuries? If so, will our homeowner’s insurance policy cover us? What should we do?

Answer: First, you are probably liable to the real estate agent for the medical bills and other damages she suffered. Second, your homeowner’s policy should have coverage to pay those damages. Third, you should not respond to the real estate agent’s lawyer. Instead, you should contact your homeowner’s insurance company, who will probably appoint a lawyer for you. This lawyer will then contact the real estate agent’s lawyer. Many states allow dog owners “one free bite” by their dog before the dog owner can be held liable for any medical bills or other damages. Arizona, however, has strict liability of the homeowner, even if the homeowner had no knowledge that their dog would bite a person. A.R.S. §11-1020. The only exception in Arizona is if the victim provoked the dog, e.g., stuck a hand inside the dog’s kennel. A.R.S. §11-1027.

Note: More than 40% of American homes have at least one dog, and America has more dogs per capita than any other country in the world. 70% of dog bites are from non-neutered male dogs, and dog bite victims are usually children between the ages of five and nine years old.

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