Dog Bite: Homeowners Insurance to the Rescue
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Canine companions offer incredible friendship, emotional support and an active lifestyle for their adoring pet parents. They also make children more empathetic by encouraging their cognitive development and socialization skills. A study estimates that almost 38 percent of American households have a dog. Even though dogs are essential family members, a few canine companions can become aggressive and bite.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the United States has an average of 4.7 million dogs bite incidents every year. Almost 800,000 bite wounds require medical care each year. Even if your pet is friendly, a single stressful situation may trigger your beloved pet to act aggressively. If your dog bites someone, it can potentially inflict serious injuries that require expensive medical treatment. If your insurance doesn't cover pet-related incidents, you could pay thousands out-of-pocket.
The best way to protect yourself and your puppy is to purchase a reliable homeowners insurance policy. You can also decide if a canine liability policy is best for you.
Which Dog Breeds Bite the Most?
Medical researchers from Texas, Ohio, and Virginia released findings from a study that examined the risk of biting injuries from different canine breeds.
These scientists sifted through data from 1970 until 2019. They used the "40 bite benchmark" as a minimum requirement to document a breed. Only 43 studies met the investigators' criteria. In 2019, the top six breeds responsible for dog bites were:
- Unknown (The Type of Dog involved was Unknown)
- Pit Bulls (22.5 percent)
- Mixed Breeds (21.2 percent)
- German Shepherd (17.8 percent)
The researchers found that injuries from pit bulls and mixed breeds were more frequent and inflicted greater damage per bite than other breeds.
Owner Liability for Dog Bites
Most states have strict liability statutes. The ideals upholding these laws is that pet owners should be responsible for the damages and injuries their canines cause. Generally, the dog owner is financially responsible, even if they didn't know their pet posed a danger to other people or pets. A few states have less strict statutes, because they take into consideration conditions that may be under the owner's control, for example, when their pet roams without supervision.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, most states have three types of liability regulations.
State Dog-Bite Statutes – Under these laws, the owner is automatically liable for any property damage or injuries that their pet inflicts. It doesn't matter if another person provoked the canine or not.
"One-Bite" Laws – Some states don't hold the owner liable if their dog bites another individual or pet for the first time. Some pet parents can be sued if their puppy or adult dog showed a previous propensity for violent, vicious, or aggressive behavior. A few states have started to remove these laws off of their books and hold the pet parent responsible, even if they haven't shown any aggression before the first incident.
Negligence Laws – These statutes hold the owner liable if an injury occurred because the guardian was extremely reckless, negligent or failed to control their pet.
There are some exceptions. Many states don't hold owners responsible if another person or pet trespassed their property.
When a dog owner is found legally liable for their pet's behavior, they will be responsible for financially reimbursing the injured person's medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, as well as any property damage.
Criminal Liability for Dog Bites - Some states are beginning to charge owners whose negligence results in severe injuries or death of another individual. One well-known case involved California resident Diane Whipple. On January 26, 2001, Whipple was attacked and killed by two Presa Canario dogs. They belonged to her neighbor Marjorie Knoller.
The owner was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter. She also paid $6,800 in restitution. Her husband, Robert Noel, was convicted on a lesser charge, but also received a four-year prison sentence. Knoller was the first California resident convicted of murder resulting from a dog attack.
Dog Bites Aren't the Only Thing You Should Worry About
Even if you believe that your pet couldn't harm a fly, you should still think about buying a dog liability policy. Biting incidents aren't the only issues that you should consider. For instance, your pet could escape and start digging up your neighbors' yard or damaging their property. A friendly puppy can jump up when greeting your guest and accidentally knock them over, causing them to injure themselves. Depending on your coverage, your homeowners coverage, renters insurance or a dog liability policy may pay for any dog bite or property damage claims that your furry friend causes.
A Homeowners Insurance Policy Can Protect Your Assets When A Dog Bite Incident Occurs
Some people don't believe that their family pet could harm anyone, especially if they're well-behaved and friendly toward most people. Unfortunately, any dog can become aggressive under the right circumstances.
If your four-legged companion gets anxious around small children, it could bite one. When your pet hasn't had enough socialization around other people or pets, it can become anxious, aggressive, or scared and bite. These traumatic incidents can leave victims with physical injuries and bad memories.
It's your duty as a pet owner to have adequate homeowners insurance coverage for any accidents that your pet may cause, whether you have a lap dog, a well-behaved puppy, or an aggressive canine. Even a toy dog can attack a child, leaving disfiguring scars on their face. Any dog-related injuries can cause financial ruin if you don't have the right insurance coverage to protect yourself.
Four Types of Dog Bite Coverage
Homeowners Insurance Policy – If you own a home, you should have a homeowners policy. A homeowner's insurance policy that will financially protect you if your pet harms someone else.
Renters Insurance Policy – If you live in a rental property, make sure to purchase a renters insurance policy that will financially protect you if your pet harms someone else.
Umbrella Policy – It provides excess liability coverage for people if damages against third-party extend beyond their homeowners or renters insurance policies.
Dog Bite Liability Insurance – Dog bite insurance policies will cover some breeds not covered by standard Homeowners or Renters Insurance Coverage.
Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Dog Bites?
Pet owners should consider buying enough insurance to shield themselves against any potential lawsuits that could arise if their dog bites someone. Some homeowners and renters insurance policies may cover dog bites and similar incidents.
An insurance company typically offers $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage on a homeowners insurance policy. If a chargeable claim exceeds these limits, the dog owner is financially responsible for that amount, including the claimant's legal fees. Homeowners with fur companions should keep liability limits to at least $100,000 for liability plus $1,000 for no-fault medical payments to cover any dog-related incidents or accidents.
Preferably, buy a homeowners insurance policy that provides $300,000 worth of coverage and $5,000 for no-fault medical payments. Keep in mind that many homeowners insurance policies have exclusions for aggressive dog breeds so you may not be covered. Credit cards may be your last resort if your homeowners policy won't foot the bill.
Most homeowners insurance policies include breed restrictions. There are 14 breeds blacklisted from coverage by most homeowners and renters insurance policies in the U.S. They include:
- Pit Bull Terriers
- Staffordshire Terriers
- German Shepherds
- Presa Canarios
- Chow Chows
- Doberman Pinschers
- Cane Corsos
- Great Danes
- Alaskan Malamutes
- Siberian Huskies
If your Homeowners Insurance Policy doesn't cover accidents caused by dogs, consider getting an umbrella policy. This coverage fills in any gaps left by your homeowners or renters insurance coverage. If you purchase one of these policies, speak with your local agent to confirm it covers accidents caused by dogs. Some policies specifically exclude them.
Umbrella Insurance Policies Provide Supplemental Coverage for Dog Bite Incidents
An umbrella insurance policy is referred to as excess liability insurance. It provides coverage beyond what regular homeowners and renters policies offer. It offers additional security for pet parents whose dogs may cause injuries to other people, property or animals.
Premiums for umbrella insurance are generally less expensive than homeowners and renters policies. Some insurers require that policyholders get an umbrella policy with a base coverage of $250,000 to $300,000.
Renters Insurance Policies Cover Some Dog Bite Incidents
Renters insurance is a policy that protects your personal property if it's damaged or stolen in a rental property. Your landlord typically isn't responsible if you suffer damages unless they broke the landlord-tenant law. Renters insurance not only covers the cost of replacing items; it can also provide coverage for people hurt on your property.
For instance, if your dog bites someone else, your policy could pay for their medical expenses. Read the fine print before you purchase one of these policies. Some renters insurance policies exclude the coverage for incidents with pets, especially if they classify the breed as aggressive or dangerous. In these cases, you'll need an umbrella policy.
If you can't find a suitable homeowners insurance or umbrella coverage, you can opt for a canine liability policy. Your apartment complex may require you to carry canine liability insurance if your renters insurance doesn't cover dog bites or related accidents.
When Should You Purchase a Dog Bite Liability Insurance Policy?
Most Homeowners and Renters Insurance companies don't consider circumstances when it comes to dogs with a history of aggression. Some insurance companies won't insure breeds they believe have a greater chance of being aggressive. Even if you believe your pet is sweet and gentle, an insurance company still won't cover them if they belong to a dangerous breed.
If you can't get your homeowners or renters insurance to cover your four-legged friend, you may need to buy a canine liability policy, or dog bite insurance. Purchase these policies before your pet has bitten or nipped at anyone. Your pup could also be labeled as "aggressive" if it has gotten rambunctious and accidentally knocked over someone when greeting them.
Take time to read your insurance terms and ask your insurance agent questions. Some policies only offer coverage when your dog is on your property. It won't insure your pet if you're walking around your community or playing fetch in a dog park. See if your insurance provides enough coverage for incidents outside your property so you won't get a surprise bill if your pet hurts someone.
How Much Does Canine Liability Insurance Cost?
Several insurance companies offer canine liability insurance coverage. Most policies start at $75 a year, and others cost as much as $1,000. It depends on the type of dog breed you own and its behavioral history. Other companies offer breed-specific policies for pups.
Some insurance companies will offer discounts if you can provide documentation that your pet doesn't have a history of aggression. For instance, you can show that your pet underwent obedience or specialized training. Your insurer may lower your rates when your pet takes these courses. Speak to your insurance company to find out what types of discounts they offer.
How to Prevent Dog Bites
There are a few preventative measures that you can take as an owner to lower your dog's chances of biting another person. Here are nine tips that can help reduce aggression.
Have your pet spayed or neutered – According to the Humane Society, a dog is less likely to bite or show aggression if they are spayed or neutered.
Socialize your puppy early – Take time to introduce your pet to other dogs, animals and people as early as possible. If you socialize your dog as a puppy, they will be more relaxed around others as an adult dog. When you're socializing your pet, see if they show any signs of anxiety or fear. These are signs they can exhibit aggressive behavior later on.
Hire a dog trainer – A professional dog trainer may be able to help your dog adjust to different situations that may trigger aggressive behavior.
Learn what triggers your pet's stress and anxiety and help them avoid it – As a pet owner, you should learn which scenarios make your fur baby feel uneasy. Know your pet's limits. If your dog growls at children, keep them away from them. If they lunge at other animals, make sure to separate your pet from them until they are calm.
Walk your dog daily – Your four-legged friends need daily exercise. It provides dogs with healthy mental stimulation and helps them to release any excess stress, anxiety, and tension.
Keep up your pet's annual checkups – Dogs who are in pain are more likely to bite. Make a veterinarian gives your pet a good physical to check for any physical problems. Dogs who are sick or suffering are more likely to bite others.
Don't allow others to immediately pet your dog – If someone asks to touch your dog, tell them to wait. See if your pet is comfortable with the person, before allowing them to pet it.
Never leave young children and dogs unattended – The AKC says that owners should not assume that their dog will never bite. It's important to continue watching your pet because its behavior can change.
Teach your visitors to have proper manners around your pet – Don't allow strangers, relatives, or guests to meet your pet without teaching them how to interact with them. Teach them how to greet your pet without irritating them. Your guests shouldn't engage in roughhouse with your pet if they get easily agitated.
Handling Dog Bite Emergencies
Has your pet bitten someone? Follow these five steps you can quickly take to handle this emergency. Control your pet, and separate them from the victim.
Get medical help for the bite victim if their injuries warrant it.
Exchange contact information with the person.
Decide which person will contact the police and animal control.
Provide the victim with proof of your pet's rabies vaccinations.
Follow the legal protocols that law enforcement agencies require, including quarantining your pet or seeking a dog behaviorist.
Do you need the right homeowners insurance coverage to protect your family and finances in case your pup accidentally bites someone? SmartFinancial can help you find the right home or renters insurance that will cover dog bites.
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