Costly bills from a dog breaking into a home cause conflict between Wisconsin neighbors

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GREENDALE, Wis. - Veterinarian bills and home repair costs have become a point of contention for Wisconsin neighbors. The question: who will pay for what happened when a dog got into a neighbors house?

On June 8, Ann Hackbarth returned home to find a neighbor's dog inside her home.

"It had my little Bella in his clutches, and was just shaking her," Hackbarth recalled.

She found her other dog, Finn, hiding.

"His head was all bit up," she said.

The neighbor's dog entered through an open window. Its owner, Linda Lutz, came over in the aftermath to help.

At the vet, Bella got 59 stitches and had surgery. Both of Hackbarth's dogs survived.

"The dogs are good. They're coming along," Ann Hackbarth said.

The vet bills cost more than $14,000. Fixing and cleaning up damage to the home nearly $8,000.

Karl Hackbarth said State Farm initially said damage to his home would be covered by homeowner's insurance. Later though, he found out they wouldn't cover anything.

"He says there's a domestic animals clause in your insurance that says any damage caused by domestic animals, we're not responsible for," Karl Hackbarth said.

So the Hackbarths looked to Lutz to cover their bills. Eventually, communication between the neighbors broke down.

"We feel it's a matter of principle at this point in time," Karl Hackbarth said.

Lutz told WITI she was "very sorry for what happened" and gave them her homeowner's insurance. As for the vet bills, she called them "unreasonable." She can't pay them anyway. Lutz filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy.

So far, the insurance company Lutz provided said it has no record of her.

Consumer attorney Nathan DeLadurantey said the Hackbarths could file a lawsuit, but it would come with challenges.

"It sounds like they, at best, have an uphill battle," DeLadurantey said. "Then I'm going to win a piece of paper, and the paper may not be worth the filing fee at the courthouse."

When it comes to insurance, read your policy, and understand what's covered and what isn't. If wrongfully denied coverage, you can sue the insurance company, or file a complaint with the Wisconsin Commissioner of Insurance.

If a responsible party won't name their insurance, a court order can force them to do so.

A representative for State Farm said, in general, animal damage isn't covered by homeowner's insurance unless it was caused by a large animal like a deer or bear. A pet that starts a fire would be one exception to that.

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