What’s America’s most popular pet? You guessed it – man’s best friend. Nearly 57 million U.S. households have at least one dog, according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey. With so many dog owners, it’s important that homeowners and renters alike become familiar with dog bite liability.
We know what you’re thinking, “But my dog is sweet and it would never bite anyone!” That may be true, but never say never. What if your neighbor’s child comes up and startles it? Or your friend accidently steps on its tail? You never know how your dog will react in different or new situations.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dogs bit about 4.5 million people each year. About 885,000 victims seek medical attention. There are three classifications of laws that impose liability on dog owners, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). Here is a short summary of each:
- Dog-bite statute: The dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes without provocation.
- The one-bite rule: The dog owner is responsible for an injury caused by a dog when the owner knew the dog was likely to bite – especially if the dog already has bitten someone.
- Negligence laws: The dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless in controlling the dog.
How you can protect yourself
Laws such as the ones listed above that make it crucial for you to have dog bite liability coverage. Without that protection, you could get stuck paying thousands of dollars in medical and legal bills in the event your dog bites someone. Dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2013, costing more than $483 million, according to the III. The average payout: $27,862.
Dog bite liability coverage is available through both homeowners and renters insurance policies; however, you’ll need to make sure your insurer is aware you have a dog. Just as apartment complexes don’t allow certain breeds, insurers can deny coverage for certain breeds, including pit bulls, Rottweilers, Chow Chows and Doberman pinschers. Michigan and Pennsylvania are the only two states that do not allow insurers to refuse coverage for certain breeds.
Beyond dog bite liability, your homeowners or renters policy may cover you if your dog decides to chew up your neighbor’s expensive rug or another piece of their property. Unfortunately, standard policies do not provide coverage for damage your dog does in your own home. That means if your dog scratches up the door in your apartment, you’ll be paying your landlord out of pocket to fix it.
Remember, every insurance provider and policy is different. Call your insurer and go over your policy limits in relation to your furry friend. Most importantly, make sure you’ve got dog bite liability coverage. After all, you don’t want to be the one who winds up in the dog house.
Samantha Alexander writes for HomeownersInsurance.com, an online insurance resource for homeowners and drivers across the country. Offering comparative automobile and homeowners insurance quotes, consumers rely on HomeownersInsurance.com for the most competitive rates from the top-rated insurance carriers in the country. The HomeownersInsurance.com blog, Square One, provides tips and advice on a range of financial topics to help homeowners and homebuyers make educated decisions about their insurance purchases.