In the case of Maddox v. Florida Farm Bureau General, 38 Fla. L. Weekly D1946a, the plaintiff resided with her two sons at her boyfriend’s house with his two dogs. One day, the plaintiff heard one of her sons screaming and she found that one of the dogs was biting her son’s face. As the plaintiff was getting the dog off of her son, the dog bit her in the face as well. Both the plaintiff and her son suffered injuries from the dog bites. The boyfriend had homeowner’s insurance with personal liability coverage for $100,000 for each “occurrence.” The policy defined an “occurrence as an accident, including continuous or repeated exposure to substantially the same general harmful condition which results in bodily injury or property damage.”
When the case got to court, the plaintiff argued that the dog bite to her son and the dog bite to her were two separate occurrences and therefore she and her son should each be entitled to up to $100,000 for their damages. The insurance company argued that the whole event should count as one occurrence and all they were liable for was $100,000 for both mother and son combined. The trial court agreed with the insurance company, but the appellate court overruled that decision and found that under the law and the insurance policy at issue, the dog bites should be considered two separate occurrences. The appellate court relied upon Florida’s adoption of the “cause theory,” which states “the inquiry is whether there was but one proximate cause, uninterrupted, and continuing which resulted in all of the injuries and damages.” Since the Florida Supreme Court in another case which involved two people being shot at a party said each individual shooting is distinguishable in time and space, the appellate court in this dog bite case said that each dog bite has to be considered a separate occurrence. The appellate court in the dog bite case also relied on the language of the insurance policy itself stating that its definition of “occurrence” was subject to two reasonable interpretations and when that happens, the policy must construed liberally in favor of the insured and strictly construed against the insurer. The appellate court said that the insurance company could have put language in the policy that a series of similar causes would be considered one occurrence, but since they did not, they had to find against the insurance company and consider both bites as two separate occurrences.
This case emphasizes the importance of analyzing the language of the insurance policy to ensure that you get the most coverage available to you if you are injured in accident. Call Givens Givens Sparks for a free case evaluation if you have suffered a dog bite injury or any other kind of injury.