Dog Bites and Your Homeowner's Insurance

November 30, 2021

There are some 63 million dogs in the U.S. and while they make for great companions and help keep our homes safe from intruders, they can also be a significant liability.

About 4.5 million people suffer dog bites every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of that number, about 885,000 need medical care.

The Insurance Information Institute estimates that one out of every three homeowner's claims is for a dog bite. In 2020, nearly $854 million was paid out in home insurance liability claims that were related to dog bites, according to the institute.

In 2020, there were 16,991 dog bite claims (those bites that actually resulted in the filing of a claim), with the average claim costing $50,245. That's compared with $44,760 in 2019 and $26,166 in 2010.

As you can see, owning a dog can cost you more than dog food and squeaky toys. If you are not properly insured, you can end up paying out of pocket for any costs associated with a bite claim.

Liability laws vary from state to state, with 29 states having laws that hold dog owners liable for injuries their pets cause, with some exceptions such as if the animal was provoked.

There are an additional 17 states and the District of Columbia where liability is not automatically granted and attacks are classified as misdemeanors or, in extreme cases, as felonies, with fines imposed. Four states have no laws covering dog bites.

What Insurance Covers

Most homeowner's and renter's insurance policies include dog bite liability coverage. The policy covers you for dog bites on your property as well as incidents that take place away from your home. If you took your dog to the beach and he attacked a sunbather, your homeowner's insurance policy would cover you.

Sometimes people sue and demand compensation for "pain and suffering." The policy would cover legal costs such as these, and any judgments or settlements the lawyers hash out, up to the policy limits.

Typically, we start liability coverage on a Homeowner’s policy with a $300,000 limit and will increase to $500,000 or $1 Million based on our client’s particular circumstances. Many of our clients will buy an additional layer of coverage and purchase an umbrella policy, which adds to your homeowner's limits.

An insurance company usually won't decline to write a policy for a homeowner with a dog, but if you file a claim, the insurer may raise your rates, exclude the dog from the policy upon renewal, or issue a notice of cancellation.

Some insurers will exclude certain breeds from coverage altogether, such as Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Pit Bulls.

In Case of an Attack

If your dog bites someone, first restrain the animal and see what damage has been done. Stay calm and be understanding with the victim, who may be traumatized.

If the victim is not seriously hurt, exchange contact and insurance information with them. You may offer to drive them to the emergency room or call 911 in more serious incidents.

When you return home, call your insurance company and report the claim.  If you have any questions, please feel free to call or text us at 781-289-7445.