Karen B. London
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Guardian Billed For Damages After Dog Killed By Car
Insurance company later backed down

When Tom Wrynn’s 8-year old Lab Mystie was hit and killed by a car last month, his view was that it was a sad accident. Mystie ran in front of the car on a dark night, and her black coat made her difficult or impossible to see. The driver of the car was in tears, and he consoled her, telling her that it was dark and hard to see and it was not her fault. (The Wrynn family still has Mystie’s daughter Zeta and I hope they have taken steps to keep her from running out into the road. Accidents involving dogs being hit by cars happen all too often, and prevention can save dogs’ lives.)

Not long after Mystie was killed, the family received a letter from Plymouth Rock, the driver’s insurance company, saying that the dog caused the accident and that Wrynn was liable for the damages. The insurance company included a picture of the car, an estimate for repairing it and a bill for $738.13. According to Massachusetts state law, Wrynn is responsible for paying for the damage because the dog caused the accident.
Though it may not be considered a parallel situation legally, I can’t help but compare this to accidents involved people being hit and killed by cars. It’s hard to stomach the thought of a parent or other relative being held financially responsible for damages if the cause of the accident had been a child, someone who is elderly person or any other person.
The insurance company later issued a statement saying that after re-examining the case, they decided to take back their request for Wrynn to pay.


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Frances | March 21 2011 |

A very sad accident, but that does not mean there was no responsibility involved. What if someone in the car had been hurt or killed? What if it had been a cyclist who caused the accident by riding at night with no lights? Another driver who caused it by dangerous driving? Would you still say it was just a sad accident, and no one was responsible? The owner of the dog is responsible for keeping the dog safe, and for keeping people safe from the dog. That is part of the covenant of keeping a dog. And this is a strong argument for having pet insurance.

Submitted by Anonymous | March 22 2011 |

There have been many accidents where drivers swerved in order to avoid hitting dogs. If they're lucky... noone gets hurt. Unfortunately, I have seen many dogs that have suffered injuries or been killed, and also many people.
We should think of our pets as children, who must be protected and cared for always. Would you let your child run into the middle of the road?
Also, don't take it for granted that a driver can/will stop in time... not everyone is a dog lover.

Submitted by Kerry | March 21 2011 |

The fact of the matter is that dogs =/= people in the eyes of the law and insurance matters. If your property does damage to another person's property, they have a right to collect compensation for that damage from the property's owner. Dogs are property, therefore the insurance company had every right to collect money from the dog's owner. It sucks, and it's obviously within their purview to choose to eat the cost rather than face bad press, but it's not required. I don't think anybody would argue that a dog bite victim shouldn't receive compensation from the dog's owner.
In many states insurance companies are allowed to collect money from an individual if they cause an accident, whether in a vehicle or on foot. It's not uncommon for pedestrians to be served with traffic tickets after being struck by a vehicle, if it was determined they didn't have the right of way. The ticket is necessary so the insurance company knows where to lay blame for the accident, and can seek compensation from the responsible party.

Submitted by Sharon | March 21 2011 |

The insurance companies will do anything to avoid paying, if they can get away with it. Now, what if the driver had hit a deer and incurred those damages? No one to sue, so the company has to take care of their insured. Yes, technically if someone else is at fault, someone else should pay. But in a heartbreaking situation like killing a pet, or hitting a child or cyclist who was at fault, it seems wiser for the insurance company to just pay up. Who knows, down the road there might be another case where the shoe is on the other foot?

Submitted by Anonymous | April 6 2011 |

Actually I would argue that in certain cases a dog bite victim should not be compenstated by the dog's owner. In such cases as a breaking and entering, or defense of the dog's owner is the "victim" is assaulting the owner. Or even if the "victim" is harrassing the dog. In those cases the "victim" should be considered at complete fault. Unfortunately our laws do not even begin to go as far as they should to protect the rights or lives of animals.
At least the insurance company backed down on this but on the whole, laws desperately need changing.

Submitted by fureverywhere | March 21 2011 |

They have GOT to be kidding. A dog is not a thing, perhaps the dog was as fault perhaps the driver or maybe it was just both being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But if anything the driver owes the owner an apology and possibly a cash donation for killing a pet.

Submitted by Dace | September 27 2013 |

Wrong! but I understand how and why you feel that way. Sadly our courts do have to prioritize and... people-pets-farm/income animals-wild animals-property-nature... is almost always the breakdown. Also, I think you will find that anytime an accident/incident involves an un-leashed/un-controlled pet the owner loses all of thier claims and will be lucky to avoid liability. Any pet owner should know this.

I think that if you re-read the opening portion of the article you'll see that it obviously upset the driver and she was feeling responsible enough that the dog owner had to comfort her and repeatedly tell her it was not her fault. As I read this article, I felt sympothy for everyone involved including the dog, but overwhelming that feeling was a deep sense of hope and pride. I'm proud of everyone involved. We so often see people give in to anger and finger pointing when tragedy strikes that hearing that these people comforted each other and both were kind and caring gives me hope for our society.

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