Dog Bite Liability

For most dog owners, the possibility of their dog biting someone may seem next to impossible. Many common dog breeds are tame, friendly, and docile but homeowner’s insurance underwriters are careful when determining what breeds of dogs to exclude from a policy.

In 2011, insurance companies paid out nearly $479 million because of dog bite claims, up nearly $76 million from the previous year. State Farm Insurance, one of the premier homeowner’s writers in the United States, paid out an estimated $109 million for only 3,800 claims; that is an average of nearly $26,000 per claim. The Postal Service racked up $1 million in medical expenses from dog bites last year. Dog bites are not a huge concern for the vast majority of homeowners, but the consequences can be very costly.
Fortunately, dog bites are generally covered under the personal liability provision of a homeowner or renter’s policy. Coverage limits for these types of policies can go as high as $500,000 and extend worldwide. Where dog owners might run into some problems are the breed exclusions. Insurance companies do not provide explicit exclusions for most dog breeds, considering their well-mannered, friendly nature. If you own an American Pit Bull Terrier, German Shepherd, Rottweiler, or Siberian Husky (to name a few), you might have trouble getting coverage. Companies may write in a specific exclusion to relieve them of liability, considering these dog breeds are stereotypically aggressive. On the other hand, some companies may deny cover for the homeowner because of the exposure that a dog bite presents.
Almost 4.7 million people are bitten each year and approximately 800,000 seek medical attention. Less than half require medical attention and approximately 16 die according to the Insurance Information Institute. I would venture to say that a good portion of the bites that require medical attention are minor to moderate, but the severe injuries present a serious, costly exposure clearly exemplified by how much State Farm paid out in 2011.
If your dog isn’t covered by your homeowner’s insurance, you should look into taking preventative measures! Training and socializing your dog can decrease the chances that your dog might bite someone else!

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