Dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners liability claim dollars paid out in 2016, costing in excess of $600 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.). The average cost paid out for dog bite claims was $33,230 in 2016, compared with $37,214 in 2015 and $32,072 in 2014.
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 has "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.
Most insurance companies will insure home owners with dogs. However, once a dog has bitten someone, your insurance company may charge a higher premium, exclude the dog from coverage, or non-renew your insurance policy.
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. The first $1 million of coverage costs about $150 per year; the second million about $75, and subsequent increments of $1 million cost about $50 per year. Are you interested in getting a quote for this coverage? Contact American Insurance online here or at (208) 746-9646 or to Quotes [at] am-ins [dot] com.
Dog Owner Liability — continued
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 American Insurance online here or at (208) 746-9646 or to American [at] am-ins [dot] com.