Posted September 13, 2021
The Perils of Being Pet-Friendly

A recent trend in the food and beverage industry is to allow dogs to accompany their owners when they grab a bite or enjoy a drink on the outdoor patio. This pet-friendly policy is a great way to attract more customers but is also a way to attract an increased risk to your liability policy.

In some states, a dog owner can be liable for dog bites. A business hosting a dog and its owner could face claims of negligence and premises liability if the dog bites a customer.

Consider the following example: on a hot summer day at a popular bar and grill with a large outdoor patio, a man brought his German Shepard to the pet-friendly establishment. While on-site, a 9-year-old boy, who was there with his family, came up to the man and asked if he could pet the dog. The man agreed, and the boy pet the dog without incident.

A short time later, the 9-year-old and his family got up to leave, and the boy decided he wanted to pet the dog one more time. This time when the boy approached, the dog lunged at the boy and bit his face. The bite broke the skin and caused damage to the boy’s face near his eye.

The police were called, the dog was taken away, and the parents of the 9-year-old boy blamed both the dog owner and the establishment for the incident. A lawsuit was filed against our insured for allowing the dog on-site, alleging that they should have known of the dog’s vicious propensities. Eventually, the lawsuit was settled through mediation.

In situations like these, there are several defenses that can be used:

  • The dog was not knowingly aggressive and did not pose a threat to customers.
  • The bite victim was trespassing.
  • The bite victim provoked the dog.

From a loss control perspective, the only way to prevent all dog bite claims is to not allow dogs on the premises. Since this will likely be unacceptable for some business owners, there are a few things they can do to reduce the likelihood of an incident:

  • Signage should be posted that this is a pet-friendly establishment.
  • When a dog is present, train your staff to assess the environment at that time. Is it hot outside? Is the area busy and loud? These are all factors that could make a normally friendly dog stress out and become aggressive.
  • The size of the dog does not necessarily mean that it is safe. Some of the smaller dogs can be the most aggressive.
  • Keep in mind that some pet owners may not act responsibly and will bring a dog on-site that is not properly socialized and may be unsafe around strangers.
  • Dogs should always remain on a leash.
  • If an employee notices an aggressive dog, they should ask the customer to leave immediately and document the incident.

Please contact your ICC Agent with any questions or Find an Agent in your area.