About 77.8 million dogs are owned as pets in the United States according to a 2015/2016 survey from by the American Pet Products Association. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year and about 885,000 require medical attention for these injuries; about half of these are children. When thinking about how much it costs to have a dog, most of us don't even consider the "bite" it may take out of our insurance dollar. But, even more importantly, homeowners need to be aware of the risk their family pet may pose to the safety of others and their personal assets.
Dog bites (and other dog-related injuries) accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2015, costing in excess of $570 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) and State Farm. An analysis of homeowners insurance data by the I.I.I. found that while the number of dog bite claims nationwide decreased 7.2 percent in 2015, the average cost per claim for the year was up 16 percent. The average cost paid out for dog bite claims nationwide was $37,214 in 2015 compared with $32,072 in 2014 and $27,862 in 2013. The average cost per claim nationally has risen more than 94 percent from 2003 to 2015, due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which are still on the upswing.
Does my insurance cover dog bites?
A dog owner's liability if their pet injures a person may vary according to state law. Some dog-bite laws make the owner liable for any injury a dog causes without provocation. Others make the owner liable if the dog has previously caused injury, implying that the pet is potentially dangerous (often called a "one-bite" rule). Negligence laws come into play if the owner does not exercise reasonable care in controlling his or her dog. In most states, dog owners are not liable if the injured person is trespassing on the owner's property. Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability, provided the dog owner informs the insurance company of a pet when buying a policy. Many policies provide up to $100,000-$300,000 in liability. Check with your agent or company to make sure your policy covers dog bites.
Does the kind of dog I have affect my insurance?
Some companies consider the history of the dog, i.e. whether this particular dog ever bitten before. Even in the first incident however, the insurance company will look at what responsibility the dog owner had in the accident. For example, insurance companies expect dog owners to be in compliance with all local ordinances. This means meeting local regulations such as leash laws and fencing height requirements. Some municipalities have even outlawed certain breeds of dogs.
Some insurance companies will not sell you a homeowners policy if you own a breed of dog on their exclusionary list, which is based on historical behaviors of certain breeds. The list of dogs vary by company, so it's good to have that information from your agent or company representative before making a final decision on the type of dog you want. Even if your insurance coverage isn't dropped, premiums could go up if the dog is considered to be at high risk for aggressive behavior by the insurance company. In some cases, an insurer may require you to sign a liability waiver for dog bites.
Colorado's Dog Bite Law
Colorado passed a law in April 2004 (HB04-1279) making dog owners liable for any serious bodily injury their dogs cause another person, regardless of the dog's history and likelihood of being vicious.
Dog Bite Prevention Tips
The Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association recommends the following steps to help prevent your dog from biting:
Have your dog spayed or neutered. Studies show that dogs that aren't sterilized are three times more likely to bite than sterilized dogs.
Socialize your dog so that it knows how to act with other people and animals.
Play non-aggressive games with your dog such as "go fetch." Playing aggressive games like "tug of war" can encourage inappropriate behavior.
Avoid exposing your dog to situations in which you are unsure what the dog's response will be.
Many homeowners are installing invisible fences. These may keep the dogs in, but they don't keep children out. Young children walking by may be attracted. Consideration should be given to this when deciding the type and height of the fence around your yard.
Dogs and their owners should get training by a professional dog trainer so that the owner can optimize control of the dog if a difficult situation should arise.
In choosing your dog, measure its personality against the family's personality with whom it will be living. For example, a family with young children should look for a dog that can tolerate lots of noise and commotion.
Never leave your dog unattended in an open yard or public area. A child may be approaching a dog with the intention of hugging it, but if the dog perceives a threat it will bite.
Introduce your dog slowly to new situations and people.
Know your dog. Don't put it in situations that make it feel overexcited or on guard.
Make sure your dog is up-to-date on all shots.
If your dog bites or snaps at anyone, call your veterinarian immediately.
- Be particularly watchful in close situations such as in a car. Keep the dog away from people strange to the dog. Make sure there is someone who can control the dog other than the driver. There are devices that will make traveling with your dog safer for both of you; check in local pet stores.
The following American Veterinary Medical Association resources can help you learn more about dog bite prevention:
What you should know about dog bite prevention
This informative brochure offers tips on how to avoid being bitten, as well as what to do if you are bitten by a dog. It also addresses what you need to do if your dog bites someone.
The Blue Dog Parent Guide and CD
This innovative dog bite prevention program is designed to help parents and children safely interact with dogs both inside and outside their home. The program is geared toward children from 3 to 6 years old. It's the only dog bite educational tool scientifically proven to help young children learn behaviors that can keep them safe.
What you should know about rabies
Rabies is a deadly disease that is transmitted to people through a bite. It is transmitted through the rabid animal's saliva. Rabies vaccinations for dogs are an excellent defense against this disease, as many times families are exposed to rabies after an unvaccinated pet dog is bitten by a rabid wild animal. This brochure educates on how to prevent rabies.
Articles about Preventing Dog Bites
Infographic: Dog Bites by the Numbers