Pet Peeves

            Nobody knows all the law.  There’s just way too much of it.

The law is definitely available. But there’s a lot of it.  There’s state law, and there’s federal law.  There are executive orders (issued by the chief executive, such as the President of the United States).  There are cases issued by courts, and there are statutes passed by the legislature.  There is Administrative law made by the administrative branch of the government.  There are local laws (such as city ordinances).  And then there’s international law.

That’s a lot of law.

It’s no surprise that any given lawyer doesn’t know all the law.  As a result, lawyers often tend to develop areas of expertise.  Otherwise, they’d spend all their time learning instead of working.  Some continued learning is essential.  But trying to first learn and then keep up on everything, all the time, would be impossible.  There’s too much going on, all the time.

So lawyers talk to each other. They often refer clients to each other. You practice law for a while, and you get an idea as to who practices what kind of law in what area.  Then when your clients need legal help outside your practice area, you refer them.

In addition to referring clients, lawyers often let each other know about recent developments in different practice areas.  So I recently found myself speaking with a probate and estate planning lawyer who told me something interesting.  He said that he had recently met with a CPA, an insurance professional, and others, and the conversation turned to insurance.  It was reported that one of the major insurers had recently adopted a policy of excluding coverage for losses caused by pets.

Now, a lack of insurance coverage for pets may not be likely to hit the front page of the newspaper anytime soon.  But there can actually be some profound consequences for pet owners.  Suppose a homeowner keeps a 70 pound dog indoors.  People have been known to do such things.  And there are dogs that weigh in at 70 pounds or more.  I sometimes ride a bicycle home from work (it’s a great way to commute).  I recently found myself on a bike path where several persons were walking their dogs.  There was one dog owner who had paused off the trail with her dog.  As I rode by, I said to the dog owner “That’s not a dog – that’s a horse!”  The owner replied “No – it’s a dog.”  I’d never seen anything like it.  It was almost the size of a shetland pony.  I can’t image what such a dog must weigh.  But it was certainly over 70 pounds.

Anyway, if a dog owner kept a large dog indoors, then such a dog will certainly move around.  And it’s possible that such a dog might wander into rooms throughout the house when nobody else was present.

What if such a dog wandered into a room with an electric floor lamp?  And what if that dog knocked the lamp over so that it fell down?  And what if the lampshade broke, and the bulb landed on something flammable?  And what if a fire resulted?

There could be a significant loss from such a fire.  The house could potentially burn to the ground.  And such a fire could even start a fire on neighboring properties.

What if that dog owner had a homeowner’s policy that said that no loss or injury from pets would be covered?  Would the insurance company be obligated to pay for the house to be rebuilt?  How about the repairs to the neighbor’s house?

Good questions.  The answers depend on the policy language and applicable insurance coverage law.  But one thing is certain: the insurance company’s obligation to cover any loss in such a situation could be significantly affected by a policy exclusion for loss, injury or damage caused by pets.

Homeowners with pets would do well to check with their insurance or legal professional to determine whether or not their policy covers losses from pets, and if so, to what extent.

Copyright 2017 ROBERT B. JACOBS