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Homeowners should be wary of ‘beware of dog’ signs

DEAR MR. MYERS: We have two small dogs that we often let run around in our fenced yard. We also have “Beware of Dog” signs posted on the fence and on our front door, but a friend says that those signs could get us into legal trouble if one of our dogs bites someone trespassing on our property or even if he or she comes as an invited guest. Is this true?

ANSWER: Laws concerning dog bites vary from state to state, and even county to county and city to city. But a handful of judges in civil dog-bite cases have indeed ruled that the simple act of posting a “Beware of Dog” sign suggests that the homeowner knew that the pet was dangerous and that the plaintiff who was bitten – whether it was a friend, postal worker or trespasser – was entitled to monetary damages.

Not surprisingly, a judge is more likely to rule in a plaintiff’s favor if evidence shows that the dog had bitten someone before. It’s also worth noting that many cities and counties across the nation now have laws that require a canine to be euthanized if it has two or three bites on its record.

Your letter states that you keep your pair of pooches inside a fenced yard. Though I’m guessing that they haven’t bitten anyone before, it might be wise to replace your current signs with a less-threatening “Dog on Premises” placard, which can be purchased for $5 or $10 at most home improvement or hardware stores. Doing so will alert visitors that you have pets on your property without suggesting that the mutts may maul them.

My gun-loving neighbor approaches this issue a bit differently. On his front door hangs a handsomely carved wood sign that reads, “BEWARE OF DOG – he eats anything that I shoot.”

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Nearly 37 percent of all U.S. households have a dog, a survey by the American Veterinary Medical Society says. Cats are second at 31 percent, while birds finished a distant third at just 3 percent.

DEAR MR. MYERS: Are the people who had their homes damaged or destroyed by those volcano eruptions in Hawaii covered by their homeowners insurance, or are they screwed because they were an “act of God”?

ANSWER: According to the nonprofit Insurance Information Institute, “most home, renters and business insurance policies provide coverage for property loss caused by volcanic eruption when it is the result of a volcanic blast, airborne shockwaves, ash, dust or lava flow. Fire or explosion resulting from volcanic eruption also is covered.”

Damage to vehicles caused by lava flow is covered by the owner’s automobile-insurance policy, the institute adds, provided that the policyholder chose the “comprehensive” option to protect against losses that aren’t caused by a collision or theft.

Like me, many of my readers are old enough to remember when the Mount St. Helens volcano erupted in the state of Washington 38 years ago. It took 57 lives and caused billions of dollars in damage.

I don’t want to scare my friends in the Evergreen State, but the U.S. Geological Survey says that St. Helens is the most likely of the nation’s roughly 170 – yes, that’s 170 – active volcanoes to erupt again. The federal agency adds that its molten lava could melt snow packs and subsequently trigger enormous flash floods and mudslides, while its ash could drift down as far as California and disrupt airplane travel around the world.

DEAR MR. MYERS: My husband and I are in our 70s and own our retirement home, but we each have children from a previous marriage. We like the idea of creating a basic living trust that you recently wrote about, but would it be legal for my husband to create one trust to benefit his kids and a second trust for me to give my property to my only daughter?

ANSWER: Sure. Your husband can create a living trust that gives his half-interest in the home and other property without forcing his heirs to suffer the time-consuming and expensive probate process. But you can form a separate trust to transfer your assets, including any stake in your house and stocks or bonds too, directly to your daughter after you pass away.

Consult an attorney and licensed estate planner for details.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.

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