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Q
My daughter was bitten by a dog while delivering newspapers. She developed an infection and had to have medical treatment. The doctor said she will have a permanent scar on her leg. I’ve been told that we have to show that the dog had bitten someone in the past before the owner can be held liable. Is that true? Is the dog’s owner responsible for her medical bills and her scarring?
AIn some states, proof of a prior bite is necessary before the dog owner is liable. However, in Minnesota, a dog owner is responsible for injuries which his dog causes, without regard to whether the dog has previously caused injury, unless the dog was provoked into biting. Most homeowner’s insurance policies provide for at least partial payment for medical bills if the bite took place on the dog owner’s property. Payment of the remainder of the bills must come from the dog owner’s liability coverage, as well as payment for the victim’s pain, suffering, emotional distress, and scarring.

Q
We’ve finally gotten the kids out of the house and college, so I want to start riding a motorcycle again. My agent has told me that medical coverage on a cycle is too expensive and I should just rely on my health insurance. I know the likelihood of me injuring someone else with my cycle is fairly small, so I am more concerned about being a victim in a crash. My agent has told me that I should obtain uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage like I have on my car. Does uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage work the same way as with a car?
AUninsured/underinsured motorist coverage for both cars and motorcycles worked the same way up until recently, when a court case held that, since motorcycles are not “motor vehicles,” cycles don’t have to have the same mandatory coverages as cars. The amount of Minnesota UM/UIM car coverage you purchase is what is called “add-on” coverage. It is the amount you can potentially get if the at-fault driver is uninsured or underinsured and you are seriously injured. With that recent court case, some major insurers (American Family comes to mind) immediately changed their UM/UIM cycle coverage to afford coverage only for the “difference-in-coverage” between the at-fault driver’s coverage and the cyclist’s UM/UIM coverage.   Thus, if the at-fault driver has only $50,000 in liability coverage and you have $50,000 UM/UIM coverage, you wouldn’t be entitled to a penny of your UM/UIM cyclist coverage if you insure your cycle with a company like American Family and have a serious injury. Since cycle injuries are often very serious, you need to know which UM/UIM coverage you have. Make sure you find out each time you renew whether you have “add-on” or “difference-in-coverage” UM/UIM cycle coverage because there is nothing to stop your insurer from changing the coverage.

Q
My agent told me I should consider getting umbrella coverage just in case I cause serious injury to someone else or someone else causes serious injury to me. I’ve discovered that there is a substantial difference in premiums between some major insurers like State Farm and Farmer’s. Why the difference in premiums and what should I look for?
AUmbrella policies originated as “excess liability” coverage. In other words, if you caused injury to someone else and your liability coverage was insufficient, your umbrella policy would pick up the tab once your liability coverage was exhausted. Over time, some insurers expanded the coverage afforded by their umbrella policies to include such things as uninsured/underinsured coverage in auto policies, or even personal watercraft or snowmobile policies. Which type of umbrella policy you have can be crucial if you or a family member is seriously injured and the other party is uninsured or his liability coverage, plus your own underinsured coverage, is insufficient. State Farm offers the old, cheaper umbrella policy which comes into play only if you are the one causing serious harm. If a company mostly insures good drivers, then it stands to reason that it will rarely have to pay on its “excess liability” umbrella policy. Farmer’s, on the other hand, is somewhat more expensive because it offers excess coverage for many more of your coverages, a godsend if you or a family member is seriously injured by someone else.

Q
I fell on my neighbor’s icy sidewalk, which has been icy nearly all winter long. Shouldn’t he be responsible for my medical bills and wage losses?
AThese claims tend to be very fact dependent. Whether the home owner is responsible may depend on any number of factors, including whether you fell on the public walk in front of your neighbor’s house or the private walk up to the neighbor’s house. While city ordinances typically make property owners responsible for snow and ice removal on public walks in front of their homes, the responsibility lies only between the city and the property owner. A passerby has no claim against the home owner for a fall on a public walk unless the home owner created an artificial condition (like running the flow from a downspout across the sidewalk) which the pedestrian couldn’t easily have noticed and which caused the fall. Things can be somewhat different on a private walk and the home owner’s medical pay coverage would likely come into play no matter what. Nonetheless, a pedestrian still has a duty to keep an eye out for dangerous conditions and avoid them if they’re visible on a private walk. Unless a pedestrian is required to use the private walk (like a deliveryman), deciding to walk on an obviously icy surface likely will foreclose a claim.

Q
Do I have to get additional coverage from my homeowner’s insurer if I buy a snowmobile or ATV?
AIn a word, “Yes”. If you don’t, you have unprotected liability for which you can be held personally financially responsible. If you buy a snowmobile, ATV, boat or personal watercraft, don’t think of putting the key into it until it is fully covered or you will face what can be financial ruin. It doesn’t matter that you bought it on the weekend and were going to insure it on Monday. If its operation causes injury to someone before that insurance goes on, you’re in the bull’s eye for big trouble.