What Every Dog Owner Should Know about Bites and Insurance

October 1, 2014

Nearly 70 percent of American households include one or more pets. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that nearly 4.5 million people suffer from dog bites every year. Of those incidents, nearly 900,000 require medical care. Nearly half of the dog bite victims are children. Some insurers will not extend coverage to owners of certain dog breeds. These breeds are classified as dangerous. Pit bulls, dobermans and several other breeds are often included in this exception. There are also some companies that decide on a case-by-case basis about which dogs are considered vicious, and the classifications are not necessarily breed related.

According to researchers, dog bite injuries comprised more than 30 percent of home insurance liability claims in 2013. This cost insurance companies a cumulative amount of more than $480 million. While the average cost of a claim dropped by more than six percent that year, the number of dog bites throughout the country increased by about five percent. In 2013, the average cost of a dog bite claim was nearly $28,000. However, it was closer to $30,000 in 2012. During the last 10 years, the cost of the average dog bite claim has risen nearly 50 percent, which includes rising medical costs and higher settlement amounts. It also includes higher judgment awards. New York had the highest cost per claim at more than $43,000, and California had the highest number of claims at nearly 1,925.

People who own dogs are responsible for their animals when they know their pets have biting tendencies. In some states, they may be liable whether they know the dog has a biting tendency or not. Some municipalities and states have statutes that apply only to certain dog breeds, and these are designed to identify which breeds are more prone to being dangerous. Exceptions that encompass any breed would include any type of dog that is deemed vicious due to a documented history of biting or aggressive behavior.

There are only a few states that do not allow insurance companies to deny coverage to owners of specific breeds. However, they may be required to purchase a specific amount of liability coverage that is higher than average. There are three specific types of laws that affect dog owners and outline liability. They are dog bite statutes, negligence laws and one-bite rules.

Dog Bite Statutes
These are statutes that say the owner of the dog is responsible for property damage or personal injuries caused by an unprovoked dog.

Negligence Laws
These laws state that dog owners are responsible if injuries happened due to carelessness in controlling the pet.

One-Bite Rules
These rules say that dog owners are liable if they know their dogs are likely to cause injury at the time an injury occurs. This means the victim must prove the owner knew he or she had a dangerous animal.

Renters and homeowners can purchase insurance policies, and these typically cover the legal and medical expenses associated with bite claims. They only cover expenses up to the maximum amount, which is usually between $100,000 and $300,000. When claims exceed the maximum, the owner of the dog must pay the remainder of the bill out of pocket. When setting up a policy, some insurers do not ask about dog breeds. Once a dog bites a person and a claim is filed, that dog is considered a risk. The insurer may then exclude it from coverage. To learn more about this topic, discuss concerns with an agent.

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