While they can be lovable, cuddly and loyal, if you have a dog, be careful; dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2015, costing more than $530 million according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year with 885,000 of those requiring medical attention – about half of those were children.
The III reported that while the number of dog bite claims nationwide fell seven percent in 2015, the average cost per claim jumped 16 percent to over $37,000. California led the nation with 1,684 dog bites reported to insurance companies. .
“The average cost per claim nationally has risen more than 94 percent in the last decade (2003-2015), 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,” said Loretta Worters, vice president with the III.
May 15-22 is National Dog Bite Prevention Week®, providing information and tips to help pet owners and the public avoid the serious health issue associated with dog bites.
Experts say that even normally docile dogs may bite when they are frightened or when defending their puppies, owners or food. The most dangerous dogs are those that suffer from poor training, irresponsible owners and breeding practices that foster viciousness. The CDC finds that over half of the dog-bite injuries occur at home and people who have two or more dogs in the household are five times more likely to be bitten than those living without canines.
The Humane Society of the United States and the American Veterinary Medical Association offer these bite prevention tips:
- Be a responsible dog owner – license it and provide regular veterinary care including vaccinations
- Neuter your pet
- Spend time with your dog and socialize it around people and other pets
- Keep your dog away from stressful situations like crowds
- Don’t let children approach an unfamiliar dog
- Discourage children
- Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog
- Refrain from approaching a dog at eye level or too quickly
- Don’t interact with an unfamiliar dog and remain motionless if approached by one
- Immediately seek professional advice from veterinarians or animal behaviorists if your dog develops aggressive or undesirable behaviors
Homeowners and renters need to know the liabilities that come with dogs.
If you have a dog, you are liable if it bites and injures someone. The Insurance Information Institute recommends pet owners have at least $100,000 to $300,000 liability coverage with their homeowners or renters policy. High income earners or those with expensive homes and assets might consider an umbrella policy.
In some states, statutes make the owners liable whether or not they knew the dog had a tendency to bite; in others, owners can be held responsible only if they knew or should have known their dogs had a propensity to bite. Some states and municipalities have “breed specific” statutes that identify breeds such as pit bulls as dangerous; in others individual dogs can be designated as vicious.
In Ohio, for example, owners of dogs that have been classified as vicious are required to purchase at least $100,000 of liability insurance. Once a dog has bitten someone, it poses an increased risk. In that instance, the insurance company may charge a higher premium, non-renew the homeowner’s insurance policy or exclude the dog from coverage.