OLR Research Report

Connecticut General Assembly


October 27, 1998 98-R-1236

FROM: Jerome Harleston, Senior Attorney

RE: Dog Bite Liability and Insurance

You asked whether (1) insurance companies maintain a list of vicious or dangerous dogs and, if so, what effect this may have on an owner's liability; (2) owners are required to carry higher levels of insurance; and (3) a landlord could (a) deny occupancy to a prospective tenant who owns a vicious or dangerous dog, (b) require a tenant to buy higher levels of liability coverage (homeowners' or tenants' policy), or (c) evict a tenant if he does not.

In Connecticut, strict liability is imposed on the owner or keeper of “any” dog that causes someone personal injury or damages their property unless the injured party was committing a trespass or other tort, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog at the time of the bite (CGS 22-357).

The Insurance Association of Connecticut (IAC) informs us that insurers handle dog bite liability in different ways. As a general rule, liability for a dog bite is a covered claim under both a homeowners' and tenants' insurance policy. But some insurers will not renew a policy where a previous dog bite claim has been filed or paid unless the homeowner or tenant accepts an endorsement or rider that excludes dog bite liability. Others apparently do maintain a list of vicious or dangerous dogs as part of their underwriting criteria and will not offer coverage if the homeowner or tenant owns one.

A private landlord may deny occupancy to a prospective tenant that owns a dog if his policy is to have a pet free dwelling. But he cannot discriminate between pet owners, allowing occupancy to some but not others.

It is possible that a landlord could condition occupancy on a tenant obtaining liability insurance adequate enough to pay for any personal injury or property damage his dog may cause. The landlord may have a vested interest in making sure there is adequate insurance protection because in all likelihood any resulting lawsuit would name both the landlord and the tenant as defendants.

If owning a dog is a breach of a lease or rental agreement then cause for eviction appears to exist. If on the other hand the lease or rental agreement is silent about pets of any kind, a landlord may not have grounds to evict unless the pet substantially interferes with the quiet enjoyment of other tenants (barking, biting, etc.).