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What a dog bite might mean to you

What a dog bite might mean to you

Nowadays, the number of humans in need of unconditional love is growing. According to the 2013-2014 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 68 percent of U.S. homes – somewhere around 82.5 million families – own a pet; it reflects a staggering fifty-six percent increase since 1988 when the first survey was conducted on the matter.

With all these babies comes trouble as well; the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year and around 885,000 of them require medical attention; half of them are children. Are you some dog’s caretaker, these numbers might worry you. But here’s where insurance policies enter the scene to make your life easier, especially with these numbers…

Even though the number of dog bite claims nationwide has decreased in 2014, as reported by the Insurance Information Institute, the average cost per claim was up 15 percent ($32,072 in 2014 compared to $27,862 in 2013). This is partly due to the increased medical costs, but also due to the ever-increasing size of the settlements, judgements, and jury awards given to plaintiffs. The claims are not the result of dog bites only, but also to dogs knocking down children, cyclists, the elderly, as it can result in injuries.

Even though the law is different from one state to another, one thing is certain: dog owners are liable for injuries their pets cause. There are three kinds of law that impose liability on owners:

  1. A dog-bite statute – in this case the dog owner is automatically responsible for any injury or property damage the dog causes without being provoked.
  2. The one-bite rule – means that the dog owner is responsible for the injury the dog caused if the owner was aware that the dog was likely to cause that type of injury – however, to apply it, the victim must prove the owner knew the dog was dangerous.
  3. Negligence laws – apply when the owner was careless in controlling the dog.

Insurance policies (renters and homeowners) usually cover the dog bite liability legal expenses, up to the liability limits ($100,000 to $300,000). Anything above the amount falls into the dog owner’s responsibility. Furthermore, once a dog has bitten someone, it poses an increased risk, thus the insurance company may charge a higher premium, nonrenew the insurance policy, or exclude the dog from coverage.

There are insurers who take steps to limit their exposure to this type of losses. Some companies ask dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites and others will have higher rates for breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers. Others won’t offer insurance to dog owners at all, and others will cover the pup if the owner takes the dog to classes that will improve its behavior, or if the dog is restrained with a muzzle, leash, or cage.

Is your Fido insured?