Liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries cost homeowners insurers $1.136 billlion in 2022, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). Year over year, in 2022 the number of dog bite claims decreased 2.2 percent to 17,597 claims but the average cost paid for dog bite claims increased by +28.8% to $64,555.
Dog Owner Liability
Dog owners don’t realize that they have few legal defenses if their dog bites anyone – for any reason. Under tort law the owner of a dog may have "absolute liability" for any injury without regard to fault or negligence. (Read more below under "Dog Owner Liability - continued")
How to Protect Yourself — And Your Assets
Homeowners and Renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite claims under the Personal Liability section of the policy, which can range from a coverage limit of $100,000 to $500,000. However, if the claim exceeds the policy limit, the dog owner is personally responsible for all damages above that amount, including legal expenses.
The Personal Liability coverage also provides no-fault Medical Payments coverage in the event your dog bites someone. This allows for minor medical bills to be submitted directly to the dog owner's insurance company. Home owners can generally get from $1,000 to $5,000 worth of this coverage under Medical Payments.
A single lawsuit — even if won by the dog owner who is being sued — can end up costing thousands of dollars in legal fees and lost wages. The greater a person’s assets, the higher the risk of a costly lawsuit. The personal liability coverage available through a standard homeowners may not be enough. Concerned home owners are urged to consider purchasing a Personal Excess Liability policy (umbrella) that protects you with an extra layer of liability limit above your Personal Liability limit.
Personal Excess Liability coverage limits usually range from $1 million up to $10 million. Personal Excess Liability insurance is relatively inexpensive. Are you interested in getting a quote for this coverage? CONTACT US at American Insurance, request a quote or email Quotes [at] am-ins [dot] com.
Watch out for new exclusions and restrictions
Due to the increase in frequency and cost of dog bite liability claims, I.I.I. reports that "some insurance companies will not insure homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls. Others decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether an individual dog, regardless of its breed has been deemed vicious. Some insurers do not ask the breed of a dog owned when writing or renewing Homeowners insurance and do not track the breed of dogs involved in dog bite incidents. However, once a dog has bitten someone, it poses an increased risk. In that instance, the insurance company may charge a higher premium, exclude the dog from coverage or nonrenew the homeowner's insurance policy."
Dog Owner Liability — continued
In 29 states, dog owners are liable for injuries their pets cause, with some exceptions such as if the dog was provoked, according to I.I.I. Depending on where the offense occurs there are three kinds of law that impose liability on dog owners; not all the laws apply in every state:
- Dog-bite statute: The dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes, even without provocation.
- “One-bite” rule: In some states, the owner is not held liable for the first bite the dog inflicts. Once an animal has demonstrated vicious behavior, such as biting or otherwise displaying a “vicious propensity,” the owner can be held liable. Some states have moved away from the one-bite rule and hold owners responsible for any injury, regardless of whether the animal has previously bitten someone.
- Negligence laws: The dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because he or she was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.
In most states, dog owners are not liable for losses incurred by trespassers who are injured by a dog. However, if a dog owner is considered legally responsible for an injury to a person or property, the owner may have to reimburse the injured person for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and property damage.
Do you have questions about your specific insurance policy? CONTACT US at American Insurance.