This article originally appeared in Bicycle Paper in 2012.
You may recall the scene from the movie “American Flyer” where Marcus Sommers (played by Kevin Costner) tells his younger brother Dave that they will be meeting up with “Eddie” later in the ride for a little speed work. A few miles up the road, Dave finally meets Eddie, who turns out to be an extremely fast dog whose sole purpose in life is to chase cyclists. In the movie, Dave is lucky and is able to outride the canine. What happens if your encounter with Eddie does not have the same happy ending?
Over the past five years I have represented approximately a dozen cyclists whose brushes with dogs have left them with serious injuries, totaled bikes, permanent scars and thousands of dollars in medical bills. While every state and local jurisdiction will have its own laws, if a dog bites someone or causes them to crash while cycling in a public place, cyclists will most likely have grounds for a negligence action against the dog’s owner. Generally, the dog owner has a duty to keep the animal under control so that it does not interfere with the cyclist's use of the roadway, bike path, trail, etc.
Most homeowner's policies will provide liability coverage to a pet’s owner for the bad acts of the dog. This policy will most likely have a medical payments provision, which will pay the initial medical bills up to a set limit, usually $1,000, but it can be increased to $10,000 depending on the policy. After exhausting the homeowner's medical payments policy, the cyclist’s health insurance should step up to pay the remaining medical bills; medical insurance will most likely require exhausting the homeowner's medical payments policy prior to tapping into the cyclist’s own medical insurance.
After recovering from injuries, the rider will need to bring a bodily injury claim against the homeowner's policy for recovery of lost wages, medical bills over and above the medical payments provision, and general damages including pain and suffering, disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life, etc. The cyclist can also bring a claim against the homeowner's policy to recover any property damage caused by the incident. If the cyclist receives money from the dog owner’s liability policy, the medical insurance carrier will most likely demand reimbursement for any medical bills it paid on the victim’s behalf.
These cases can be quite serious. I’m currently representing someone who was severely injured when a dog lunged at him while he was riding through a quiet residential neighborhood. My client sustained multiple injuries including rib, clavicle, and pelvic fractures, a punctured lung, and extensive bruising. He was hospitalized for eight days and has incurred a mountain of medical bills.
Just like car versus bike incidents, a dog attack can occur when least expected. However, there are certain situations that can be avoided. If you know there is an unleashed dog on your normal route, take the time to notify animal control and encourage them to confront the owner. When encountering a dog, whether leashed or unleashed, try to give it and its owner lots of room and plenty of warning before approaching. This is especially true on paths/trails that are commonly used by cyclists, pedestrians and dog walkers. If attempting to pass too closely or quickly, the animal’s first reaction might be to snap or lunge at you or your bike, resulting in you getting bitten or tangled up in the leash.
The bottom line is that bicycles and even the friendliest of dogs do not mix well. Try to avoid the encounter or, if you are cycling with friends, simply ride faster than everyone else!