California Court of Appeal Rejects Insurer’s Refusal to Defend Frivolous Dog-bite Claim
By Paul V. Esposito
At least for now, an insurer too quickly refused to defend its insured from a lawsuit against her after her boyfriend’s pit bulls attacked two dogs being walked by their owners on a public sidewalk. Dua v. Stillwater Ins. Co., 2023 Cal. App. LEXIS 342 (5/5/23). There was no allegation that the insured owned the pit bulls or was present during the attack, only that the boyfriend lived with the insured and that she knew the dogs were dangerous. The insurer had a duty to defend even frivolous claims. Insurer denied its duty to defend even after the insured reported that (1) she was not married to nor was living with her boyfriend, (2) the attack was off her premises, (3) and the dogs were in her boyfriend’s care, custody, and control. If true, the policy’s animal exclusion would be inapplicable. The insurer should have conducted a further investigation to determine whether it had a duty to defend.