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Personal Insurance

Dog Bites and Liability

October 27, 2022

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, over 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States, with at least half of dog bite victims being children. Of those bitten, more than 800,000 receive medical attention for their injuries.

In 2021 nearly 18,000 dog bite claims were processed, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The average cost of each of those claims totaled just under $50,000. Knowing if your homeowners or renters policy covers you in the event of a dog-related accident is an essential step in remaining financially safe.

Why Dogs Bite

Understanding when and why dogs bite is the first step in preventing an accident. Dogs may feel the need to protect themselves when provoked by stressful situations, when they feel threatened, when protecting their puppies or owners, or when caught off guard.

According to the Canine Journal, children are most often the victims of dog bites when rough play is involved. The animal may get overwhelmed or over-excited. Dogs also may be more on edge when they aren’t feeling well.

Which Dogs Bite

Knowing the types of dogs most prone to aggressive behavior can help you read situations where danger may exist. According to the Canine Journal, breeds known to bite the most include the following:

  • Chihuahua
  • Bulldog
  • Pit bull
  • German shepherd
  • Australian shepherd
  • Lhasa apso
  • Jack Russell terrier
  • Cocker spaniel
  • Bull terrier
  • Pekingese
  • Papillion

Who Pays if a Dog Bites?

According to the Insurance Information Institute, depending on the laws in force, dog owners may be liable for injuries their pets cause in the following instances:

  • If the owner knew the dog was likely to bite
  • If a state statute is in force that holds the owner liable whether or not the owner knew the dog was likely to bite
  • If the owner was unreasonably careless and it resulted in injury

While most homeowners and renters insurance policies provide coverage for this exposure, some people elect to secure umbrella/excess liability coverage in addition to their standard policy. However, dog owners should be aware of the following:

  • Not all insurance carriers will cover all dog breeds.
  • Coverage may be excluded in the future if your dog bites or injures someone, or your insurance premium may rise.
  • If a claim exceeds your insurance coverage limits, you will be responsible for paying the remainder of the claim.
  • Additionally, it’s important to know that each state has its own laws regarding dog owners and their liability for injuries.

If you own a dog, speak with your insurance broker. Clarify whether coverage is in place, how much coverage is in place, and whether there are restrictions or limits.

Preventing Dog Bites

Of course, prevention is always better than causing an injury or facing a lawsuit. Dog owners can take some simple steps to reduce the risk:

  • Choose your pet wisely. Some breeds are more aggressive than others.
  • Neuter or spay your dog. Many pets become calmer after this procedure.
  • Train and socialize your dog so that it is comfortable in a variety of settings.
  • Avoid stressful situations for your pet, if possible.
  • Always maintain control of your animal at home and in public spaces. A good leash can be your best friend.

If you have questions about pet liability and insurance, contact Hylant for a consultation and a quote.

Related Reading: Does Your Insurance Cover You if the Unexpected Happens?

The above information does not constitute advice. Always contact your insurance broker or trusted advisor for insurance-related questions.

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