What Uber and Lyft are to ridesharing, Rover is to dog walking and pet sitting. Rover is a website and smartphone app that allows pet owners to connect with those in their area who provide pet care services.
Rover was founded in Seattle in 2011, and claims to be the largest network of its kind in the United States. Like Uber, Rover is a development of the modern “gig economy” made possible by the internet and smartphones, which allows people to find part-time employment engaging in simple services such as dog walking or sitting. It also provides a convenient medium to make these services easier to find than ever before. And while Rover has not garnered as much attention (or controversy) as Uber, it has still tapped into a very profitable market.
For those who need pet care services, Rover might be a godsend. Still, animals can be unpredictable. And even though Rover screens applicants carefully, things can still go wrong.
There have been a few “Rover horror stories” in the media lately:
- A New York man was recently accused of using Rover to lure a teenage girl to his home and sexually assaulting her.
- In Florida, a woman claimed that after she left her service dog with a Rover sitter, the dog ran away and was later found dead near the highway.
- A Colorado woman left her dog with a Rover sitter while on vacation; while away, she received a message that her dog had been mauled by another dog being watched by the same sitter, unbeknownst to the pet owner.
- In another story out of Atlanta, another woman used Rover while on a business trip. Without permission the sitter took her dog, who was blind, to her apartment, and the dog fell from a two-story balcony.
What do you do when a Rover booking turns into a disaster?
The Rover Accident Guarantee
Rover offers a guarantee to dog owners for any harm that might come to their pet during a booking. You can read about the Rover Guarantee on their website. In short, the guarantee provides:
- Veterinary care for injuries to a dog booked for Rover services or to any pets owned by the sitter that were injured by the dog.
- Property damage for any property affected by the sitter or their pets.
- Bodily injury liability for some third parties.
- The monetary limits of the Rover Guarantee are $25,000 in veterinary care and $1 in million property damage or personal injury liability for a single incident, with a $250 deductible.
Sounds pretty good, right? Well, there are a few caveats. For one, the Rover Guarantee is not considered insurance, and is only meant to cover damages when no other insurance policy is available to do so.
For another, there are many exclusions, including long-term or preventive veterinary care, treatment for preventable conditions such as fleas, injuries done by automobiles, and injury to the pet owner or care provider themselves.
If you are considering hiring or working for Rover, you should read the complete Rover Terms of Service, and make sure you fully understand them before signing up.
Employee vs. Independent Contractor: A Note on Liability
It is also important to understand that, as with Uber and Lyft, dog sitters and walkers who work for Rover are not considered employees, but are classified as “independent contractors.”
This might sound like a trivial distinction, but it is important: employers have more responsibility for the actions of their employees than they do for the actions of their independent contractors. In its Terms of Service, Rover identifies itself as a “neutral venue” between pet sitters and owners, stating that Rover is not a provider of pet care. It is a clever legal sleight of hand, and allows these companies to duck liability for the actions of their contractors, and legal precedent is still being set for this evolving field of law.
The good news is that a claim can still be made when a walker/sitter acting as a contractor is bit by a dog while on the job. Depending on the case, we may also be able to file against Rover or even the pet/home owner.
Dog Bite Liability
Dog bite liability is an extremely complicated subfield of personal injury law.
The precise rules for demonstrating liability in a dog bite case vary from state to state, but in many cases, they will be decided according to the tort of “strict liability.” In ordinary personal injury cases, you must prove negligence before you can recover any damages. With a strict liability case, however, you do not need to prove negligence. All you need to prove is that, (a) a dog injured you by biting you, and (b) the defendant in question owned the dog. The owner does not need to have been negligent to be liable. Even if they went above and beyond reasonable care, they will still be responsible for any bites or injuries caused by their dog.
In some states, there is a different procedure, known (somewhat erroneously) as the “one free bite rule.” Under this rule, dog owners are only liable for any injuries caused by their dog biting someone if they have prior warning that the dog was dangerous.
This warning may take any of several different forms. For instance, merely barking at strangers will not satisfy the one free bite rule, but snapping and growling at strangers might, and a prior bite almost certainly will. This rule entitles dog owners who have no reason to believe that their dog is dangerous a “free pass” — on the first occurrence, at least. After that, they will be responsible for all the damages caused by their dog.
Another complicating factor: in some jurisdictions, the individual responsible for caring for the dog, or the sitter, will be held responsible for any dog bites that occur on their watch, and not the owner.
Additionally, certain jurisdictions have passed breed-specific legislation which deems certain dog breeds, such as “pit bulls,” as dangerous. These laws are not only controversial, they make the legal sanctions against those breeds even stricter, and because they varies greatly from area to area, they also make liability even more complex. If you have been seriously injured by a dog, it is in your best interest to contact an attorney, so they can help you wade through the many complex factors that determine liability.
What to Do After a Rover Accident or Injury
If you get in an incident with a Rover dog, then it is very important that you take certain steps immediately following the accident. The precise steps that you should take will depend on the nature of the accident or injury, but there are a few steps that you should take no matter what happened.
If the Dog Bit Someone:
If you or another party was bitten by a Rover dog, then the first and most important thing to do is to seek medical attention.
You may be able to administer some first aid on your own, by using a clean towel to stop the bleeding, washing the wound with soap and water, and applying a clean bandage to protect it.
If you were the one bitten, you should see a doctor as soon as possible, even after a seemingly minor bite. Dog bites are often more serious than they look, and while deadly bite-transmitted diseases such as rabies are rare in the United States, they still occur. Because Rover sitters are independent contractors, Rover takes no responsibility for whether dogs are vaccinated or not.
However, when someone is bitten by a dog, the owner is required to provide that person with some basic contact information immediately following the incident, just like a driver in a car accident would be. If you were bitten, don’t become the victim of a “bite and run”! Insist that the owner provide you with vaccination information about the dog to determine if you are at risk. (To this end, it is important to have a record of your own dog’s vaccinations and any medical conditions.) Also, be sure to obtain the dog owner’s contact information. If they flee, or you suspect them of giving you false info, then take pictures and get a good description so that the authorities can track them down later.
You should report the incident to your local animal control agency. This will allow them to collect a record of the dog’s bites, so that they can act to help future victims (particularly in “one free bite” states). Also ask about any previous incidents involving the same dog; this may help your case.
If Your Dog Was Injured:
As with a human injury, it is important to get your dog medical attention as soon as possible. Here, too, you may be able to do some first aid on your own, including cleaning and disinfecting any flesh wounds, but as with a human injury it is most important to get your dog to an experienced veterinarian as soon as possible.
Since dogs cannot tell you if they have a problem, you may not realize at first that they are injured or ill. There are many potential signs of illness or injury, but they may include limping, changes in behavior, vomiting or diarrhea, changes in eating or sleeping habits, or showing pain when touched in certain areas. If your dog comes back from a walk or extended stay with a Rover sitter and isn’t acting normally, have him or her examined by a veterinarian.
Dogs also may act aggressively when injured, even if they are ordinarily friendly. Be careful of your own safety when handling a potentially injured dog; you may need to muzzle your dog temporarily.
If Property Was Destroyed:
Take photos of the property damage and obtain witness statements.
Which brings us to our next point…
No Matter What Happens:
You absolutely must gather evidence.
If you were seriously injured by a dog bite, this may be difficult, but you should still make an attempt to gather as much evidence as possible, or ask a friend or family member to do so.
Take as many photos of the incident as possible, whether of the dog bite, damaged property, or anything else that may be relevant. If there were any witnesses to the event, make sure you have their contact information. In a case like this, witnesses can make all the difference.
If you or if your dog was injured, seeing a doctor or veterinarian serves a dual purpose: providing needed medical attention, and a medical record you can use as evidence later. Keep all medical records and save your invoices.
After an incident with a Rover dog, Rover itself may be able to help you. They recommend contacting the Trust and Safety Team (888-727-1140), who may be able to give you useful information to resolve the issue. Keep in mind that they have a 48-hour deadline to report all incidents (counting down from the end of the stay or walk during which the incident happened).
With smaller claims, such as those involving only minor to moderate property damage or the most trivial injuries, you may be able to handle the process on your own.
With a larger claim, however, involving moderate to severe injury or even death (either to a human or dog), or severe property damage, you should speak to a lawyer about your claim. In such a circumstance, be very careful about what you say to Rover or any of its representatives, because it may be used against you. Let your lawyer do the talking for you.
If you do have such a claim, a consultation with TorkLaw is free, and you only pay us if we win the case. Call us today at 888.845.9696.