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COA: Insurer has no liability for dog bite injuries

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The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld summary judgment in favor of Auto-Owners Insurance Co. on the issue of whether it had liability to cover the damages sought by the parents of a boy bit by a dog on the insured’s property. The person residing at the home, whose dog bit the boy, was not considered an insured under the policy.

Ginger Hawk owned the house in Gas City and had it insured by Auto-Owners. Michael Carl, Hawk’s cousin, lived in the home. Hawk testified that she would drive by the home a few times a year but never went inside the house. Braydon Didion was allegedly bit in the face by Carl’s dog while Braydon played in the yard in front of the home. Bradyon’s parents sued Carl in July 2008 and added Hawk to the complaint. The Didions received default judgment. Hawk did not notify Auto-Owners about the incident and lawsuit until July 2009 when she first learned of the lawsuit after discovering a lien on the house and then speaking to Carl.

The trial court granted the insurer’s motion for summary judgment finding Carl did not live with Hawk at the time of the incident and he is not an insured under the policy.

The Didions argued that since Carl is a blood relative of Hawk and he “resided” with her in the Gas City house, he is an “insured” under the policy.

“… we do not believe that any ordinary policyholder of reasonable intelligence would understand an absentee landlord who does no more than drive by a house every so often to ‘reside’ in that house,” Judge Cale Bradford wrote in David Didion and Kristi Didion as Parents and Legal Guardians of Brayden Didion v. Auto-Owners Insurance Company, 27A02-1303-PL-232.

The majority also addressed whether Auto-Owners received adequate notice of the loss, which it affirmed it did not.

“We have little trouble concluding that the length of delay in this case was unreasonable. The facts of this case amply support our conclusion: in the over one year that passed between the Loss and Ginger’s notification to her agent, the Didions’ lawsuit had not only been filed but had already proceeded to default judgment regarding liability and damages,” Bradford wrote.

Judge L. Mark Bailey wrote in his concurring opinion that the appeals court should not have looked at the question of the timeliness of the notice because the lack of coverage inquiry is dispositive.
 

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