Ruff Ruling for Nationwide: Ohio Court Says Insurer Must Cover Canine Bite

By | February 8, 2023
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An Ohio Court of Appeals panel said that Nationwide must indemnify a canine owner whose bulldog bit a passer-by, ruling that a policy exclusion barring coverage for bodily injury for a dog with a prior history of attacking or biting did not apply because the bulldog did not have an established history of aggressive behavior.

The Eighth Appellate District County of Cuyahoga heard Nationwide’s appeal in the case of Todd Benjamin Rolinc v. Nick Williams, et al. Williams held a Nationwide homeowner’s insurance policy at the time his bulldog named Beastro attacked Rolick on August 2, 2020. Beastro bit Rolick several times, resulting in injuries and requiring medical attention. Police responded to the scene and filed a report.

Two months prior to the incident, Williams’ dogs Beastro and Mallory, a pit bull mix, attacked Debra Shufran’s dog, a Welsh terrier. At the time of the attack, Shufran did not file a police report because she thought it was an isolated incident.

Three days after the attack on Rolick, Shufran filed a police report concerning the attack on Tootsie. The report states that both Mallory and Beastro bit Tootsie. Shufran said she decided to file the report after witnessing Beastro attack Rolinc and realizing the attack on Tootsie was not isolated.

Rolinc filed an action for negligence and liability on the August 2, 2020 incident. In an intervening complaint, Nationwide argues that the policy’s dog exclusion bars coverage for claims of ‘bodily injury’ arising out of “Any dog with a prior history of attacking or biting (…) person(s) or animal(s), as established through insurance claim records, or through records of local public safety, law enforcement or other similar regulatory agency.”

In May 2022, a trial court denied Nationwide’s summary judgment and granted summary judgment to Rolinc on Nationwide’s intervening complaint, ruling that the policy provides personal liability coverage to Williams for the alleged claims.

A three-judge appellate panel reviewed Nationwide’s appeal by determining whether Beastro’s prior history of biting or attacking was “established” as specified in the policy. To answer the question, the panel turned to case law to determine the relevant time in an insurance dispute.

The panel looked at a 1988 Ohio Supreme Court ruling, Kaplysh v. Takieddine, in which an insurer was not required to indemnify an unlicensed driver whose license to drive expired twenty-one days before the accident. The fact that the driver was subsequently issued a license was not relevant.

In applying Kaplysh, the panel found that the August 5, 2020 police report is irrelevant to a determination of whether Beastro had a prior established history of biting or attacking. The panel found that the Nationwide’s dog exclusion does not apply, and Rolinc is entitled to judgment.

Topics Carriers Ohio

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