Protect Insurance

Dog Bites Man. Is Your Homeowners Policy Going to Protect You?

Dayana Yochim  |  September 24, 2020

Are you and your dog buddy adequately covered in case Fido’s sharp puppy teeth inflict harm? Here’s what your insurance policy will cover.

People talk a lot about the costs of caring, feeding, boarding, insuring and keeping their new pets healthy and happy. But often lost in the conversation is the price of protecting the owner from harm — specifically unexpected financial injury if your pooch hurts someone.

We’re not just talking about dog attacks. A joyous dog racing around the park could result in a full-contact zoomies collision that leaves a human bystander with a torn ACL. That bystander was me a few years ago. And the dog responsible for the takedown was my own. Another time I was playing tug-of-war with someone’s 50-pound Rhodesian Ridgeback puppy when it accidentally chomped down on my thumb.  

I’m not a litigious person, and I only needed a tetanus shot. But had that giant goof drawn blood from someone who was in the mood to sue, it could have cost the owner as much as a small luxury car to settle the dog-bite claim. 

Related: The Unexpected Costs of a Pet Brought Home During the Pandemic

That’s going on your record, Fido

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), more than one third of all homeowners insurance liability payouts are for dog bites and other dog-related injuries. The average amount paid out per dog bite claim in 2019 was $44,760. 

Think your precious little bundle of fur isn’t capable of inflicting damage? Consider that more than half of dog-bite injuries take place at home with a dog that knows its victim, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. I’ve witnessed countless  dog-sideswipes-human accidents. (My preventative strategy is to yell “Bend your knees!” every time a herd whips up in a frenzied chase.) 

The highest rate of injuries happens among children ages 5 to 9. Other types of injuries include ones sustained when a dog knocks over children, cyclists and the elderly.

Homeowners insurance typically includes coverage for liability expenses related to dog bites, but only up to a certain amount. The III notes that along with increased medical costs, jury awards and settlement amounts have been on the upswing. The average claim has increased 134% from 2003 to 2019. The right homeowners insurance — typically running around $100 per month — can save you a lot of kibble. 

Is there such a thing as dog bite insurance?

Carriers’ dog-related policies vary, as do state laws. Some places have breed-specific statutes that call out certain types of dogs as dangerous. They may even require dog owners to purchase a minimum amount of liability coverage. In Ohio, for example, households with dogs that are classified as “vicious” must carry a minimum of $100,000 in liability coverage. 

An insurance company can choose to exclude your dog from coverage, ask you to sign a liability waiver for dog bites or even charge a higher premium if you own certain breeds, like Pit Bulls, Dobermans and Rottweilers. (PS: Watch the Dodo’s Pittie Nation videos and you’ll never badmouth these big sweethearts again.)

However, III reports that several states ban municipalities and counties from targeting individual breeds. In Pennsylvania and Michigan, for instance, insurers cannot deny or cancel coverage for having a specific breed. 

Just be aware that if you have to file a claim, it will go into a national database of claims and be associated with your name. Even if you switch insurers, the new company will be aware of the incident and price it into your premium. 

Put a leash on liability costs

Many insurers make coverage decisions on a case-by-case basis. That’s why it’s important to speak to a representative to get clarity — for you and them.

If you’ve recently welcomed a new dog into the family (or if you haven’t checked your homeowners or renters policy in a while), take some time between snuggles to dig in.

Check what your current policy covers. Basic homeowners policies include personal liability coverage that pays for legal fees (if you’re sued) and medical bills from injury or personal property damage to someone else. No-fault medical payments coverage is also pretty standard. If a guest is injured while at your home, this coverage is available no matter who is liable for the accident. Note that the coverage is pretty minimal (e.g. $1,000 to $5,000). 

Increase your personal liability coverage. The personal liability coverage on a standard policy is usually between $100,000 and $500,000, according to the insurance comparison marketplace, Policygenius. For even more coverage —broader and at higher limits — consider purchasing personal umbrella insurance.

Inquire about premium discounts. If your dog is affecting your premiums (or preventing you from getting coverage), ask your insurer what actions you can take to remedy that. Just like installing anti-theft devices on your home and car can help reduce your rates, things like taking the pooch to training, using a crate or muzzling your dog when in public may help cut the cost of coverage.

Put aside money to self-insure. You can always cover any costs out-of-pocket. (Put it away in a high-yield savings account or high-yield checking account.) Remember, even if you have insurance, you must first meet your deductible (what you pay out of pocket) before your insurer kicks in money. So keep at least the amount of your deductible on hand.

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