Your insurance coverage and dog bite liability

Dog bite liability insurance

Let’s start with some basic statistics: according to the American Pet Products Association, there are over 90 million dogs in American household.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the U.S. Among children, the rate of dog-bite–related injuries is highest for those 5 to 9 years old. Over half of dog-bite injuries occur at home with dogs that are familiar to the victim.

Legally, most states consider hold dog owners liable for injuries their pets cause if the owner knew the dog had a tendency to bite. In some states, statutes make the owners liable whether or not they knew the dog had a biting tendency. In other states, owners can be held responsible only if they knew or should have known their dogs had a biting tendency. Some states have “breed specific” statutes that identify breeds such as pit bulls as dangerous; in others individual dogs can be designated as vicious. At least two states, Pennsylvania and Michigan, have laws that prohibit insurers from canceling or denying coverage to the owners of particular dog breeds. In Ohio, for example, owners of dogs that have been classified as vicious are required to purchase at least $100,000 of liability insurance.

What does this mean for your insurance coverage? Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability legal expenses, up to the liability limit on your insurance policy. If the claim exceeds the limit, the dog owner is responsible for all damages above that amount.

Some insurance companies will not insure homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls. Other companies consider the specific risk and consider the age of the dog, biting history … etc. However, if a dog has a bites someone while covered and a claim has been paid, the insurance company could surcharge for the higher risk, exclude dog liability from the policy coverage or simply non renew the policy. Some insurers are taking steps to limit their exposure to such losses. Some companies require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, while others charge more for owners of breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers and others are not offering insurance to dog owners at all. Some will cover a pet if the owner takes the dog to classes aimed at modifying its behavior or if the dog is restrained with a muzzle, chain or cage.