A dog provides companionship and is often an important part of the family. In the United States, 36% of homeowners own at least one dog, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics. Unfortunately, dogs can also bite humans, and when it does occur, a dog bite can cause serious injury or disease.
According to the CDC, 1 in 5 people bitten by a dog will require medical attention. Dog bite injuries can be painful, and can cause nerve damage, diseases such as MRSA, and other serious injuries. In the most severe cases, death may even be possible.
If you own a dog, consider protecting yourself from any potential liability for injuries caused by your dog biting someone or knocking down a small child or a cyclist. Dog liability insurance may help, so here’s what you need to know.
What Is Dog Liability Insurance?
Dog liability insurance helps pay for any injuries or legal responsibilities that may come from your dog hurting another person. Some homeowners insurance policies may include dog liability up to a certain amount. Typically, your homeowner’s policy covers the expenses of a dog bite attack and up to $300,000 in personal, legal, and medical expenses.
However, your insurer may exclude dog breeds that may be considered “aggressive,” such as Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Chow Chows, among others. It may also exclude dogs based on bite history or charge a higher premium for dogs considered to be at higher risk for biting.
Some states may even require dog owners to insure a vicious dog. For example, Ohio requires owners of dogs designated as “vicious” to take out $100,000 in liability insurance.
What Does Dog Liability Insurance Cover?
Dog liability insurance may include bodily injury and property damage to third parties. It excludes coverage for the insured or the insured’s family for medical injuries or property damage.
A canine liability insurance policy may cover medical expenses, lawsuit defense, and costs of property damage to third parties up to a certain amount. Remember, liability insurance pays for damages to third parties, so this would not pay for any damages to yourself or any member of your family or your own property.
Plans may cover one or two dogs, and plans may cover up to $250,000 in expenses. Your cost for coverage may depend on your dog’s breed, history, and weight.
How Much Do Dog Bites Cost Homeowners Each Year?
Costs are going up even as claims go down, according to data from the Insurance Information Institute (III) and State Farm Insurance. In 2017 there were 18,522 homeowner claims concerning dog bites, with an average payout of $37,051. In 2018, there were 17,297 dog bite claims, but the average cost per claim was $39,017.
Altogether, dog bites and dog-bite-related liability claims totaled $675 million in 2018.
California has the highest incidence and cost of dog bite claims: 2,166 bites in 2018, at $45,543 per claim.
Are Dog Owners Legally Responsible for Bites?
Your state or city laws define whether you’re legally responsible for your dog’s bite. For example, in some cities and states, a dog’s owner is legally responsible for any bite on public or private property, whether or not the owner knew the dog could be “vicious” or dangerous.
Some areas reduce liability if the owner posts a warning sign, such as “Bad Dog” or “Beware of Dog,” or if the bitten person was provoking the dog. As well, some states may require the owner to already know of their dog’s viciousness, or may restrict liability if the bitten person wasn’t seriously injured or killed.
Dog bites may lead to criminal penalties and civil actions, when state laws allow bite victims to recover economic damages, such as hospital bills for a broken arm or bite wounds.
Breed-specific legislation identifies dangerous dogs or requires you to carry certain insurance liability limits if you own a dog such as a Rottweiler, German Shepherd or Pit Bull. Cities commonly pass breed-specific laws.
Dog Liability Insurance Options
If you’re looking for dog liability insurance to cover your furry friend and any injuries they might cause, you have a few options.
Homeowners or Renters Insurance
You may have a certain amount of coverage with your homeowners insurance policy or renters insurance policy with certain limits and exclusions, depending on your homeowners insurance company. Typically, your homeowners or renters insurance policy covers dog bite expenses up to your policy’s liability limits. So if you have a $100,000 legal liability limit, you’re responsible for any bite-related expenses above that amount.
If your homeowners policy doesn’t offer adequate coverage for dog bite liability expenses, an umbrella policy pays excess costs after reaching your insurance policy’s maximum payout. You must first have an underlying policy (such as a homeowners policy) to purchase umbrella insurance and it may give you up to $10 million in liability coverage to cover unexpected events such as a dog bite accident.
Dog Liability Insurance
If you’re excluded from coverage under your homeowners or renters insurance policy because you have a restricted breed or bite history, consider a separate dog liability insurance policy. The rates for this will vary depending on your breed, the dog’s size, where you live, and the limits of coverage you choose.
Some insurance plans may even cover a dog who has attended behavior classes.
The Bottom Line: Do You Need Insurance for Your Dog?
The statistics don’t lie. Without liability protection that covers dogs, you could potentially be liable for tens of thousands of dollars. Some dog owners might attempt to avoid reporting a bite to their insurance company. But doing so could violate your policy or bar your dog from future coverage. If you own a dog, it pays to protect yourself with some form of liability insurance that covers dog bites, while also working to prevent dog bites from happening.