There are some 63 million dogs in the U.S. and while they make for great companions and help keep our homes safe from intruders, they can also be a significant liability.
About 4.5 million people suffer dog bites every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of that number, about 885,000 need medical care.
The Insurance Information Institute estimates that one out of every three homeowner’s claims is for a dog bite. In 2020, nearly $854 million was paid out in home insurance liability claims that were related to dog bites, according to the institute.
In 2020, there were 16,991 dog bite claims, with the average claim costing $50,245. That’s compared with $44,760 in 2019 and $26,166 in 2010.
As you can see, owning a dog can cost you more than dog food and squeaky toys and, if you are not properly insured, you can end up paying out of pocket for any medical costs for a house guest that your pet attacked.
Liability laws vary from state to state, with 29 states having laws that hold dog owners liable for injuries their pets cause, with some exceptions such as if the animal was provoked.
There are an additional 17 states and the District of Columbia where liability is not automatically granted but attacks are classified as misdemeanors or, in extreme cases, as felonies, with fines. Four states have no laws covering dog bites.
What insurance covers
Most homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies include dog bite liability coverage. The policy covers you for dog bites on your property as well as incidents that place away from your home. If you took your dog to the beach and he attacked a sunbather, your homeowner’s insurance policy would cover you.
Sometimes people sue and demand compensation for “pain and suffering.” The policy would cover legal costs, judgments or any settlements the lawyers hash out up to the policy limits.
Maximum coverage typically ranges from $100,000 to $300,000 in most homeowner’s policies. You can get additional coverage if you purchase an umbrella policy, which adds to your homeowner’s limits.
An insurance company usually won’t decline to write a policy for a homeowner with a dog, but if you file a claim, the insurer may choose to raise your rates or exclude the dog from the policy upon renewal.
Some insurers will exclude certain breeds from coverage altogether, such as rottweilers, German shepherds and pit bulls.
In case of attack
If your dog bites someone, first restrain the animal and see what damage has been done. Stay calm and be understanding with the victim, who may be traumatized.
If the victim is not seriously hurt, exchange contact and insurance information with them. You may offer to drive them to the emergency room or call 911 in more serious incidents.
When you return home, call your insurance company and report the claim.
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