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Woof! Dog Bites Take a Big Chunk Out of Claims Dollars

Did you know that dog bites account for about one third of all homeowner’s claims?  It’s a staggering number.  Last year, insurance companies paid $479 million for dog bite claims.  That’s an increase of $66 million over 2010, and the numbers continue to rise.

Dog bite claims can be very emotional for the family of the dog and the families of the victims. If the dog owner is negligent in their supervision of the dog (and sometimes even when they’re not) the liability coverage on their home insurance policy will be called upon to pay for the dog bite injuries.  (This is a good time to remind you to make sure that you are carrying the highest available liability limits on your home policy.  We also strongly recommend an umbrella policy which would add $1 million or more protection in the event of a serious injury.)  The good news is that families have a way to protect their assets in the event of a first bite.

However, the future insurance consequences of that dog bite can have a long and serious tail. (Apologies for the pun!)  Most insurance carriers struggle with the dilemma of whether to continue to insure a dog that has bitten.  If they do, they risk an even higher claims judgement if the dog bites again.  Courts and juries are not too forgiving when a dog has a bite history.  It’s difficult, if not impossible, for an underwriter to predict if a specific dog will bite again.  So most companies will either non-renew or require a dog bite exclusion which then leaves the insured family with a tough decision to either put the family’s assets at risk in the event of another bite, or to (sadly) put the dog down.

As a dog owner, the best way to protect yourself is to adequately train and constrain your dog. It’s important to take proactive care when the dog is introduced to new people and environments, and to avoid aggressive games such as wrestling or tug-of-war.  Also, teach children the proper way to approach and pet an animal.  Encourage them to ask for permission before petting to avoid startling the dog. They should respect the dog’s space while it’s eating or sleeping.  Children between the ages of 5 and 9 are the most common victims of dog bites.

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