Dog Bite Liability

What You Should Know About: Dogs and Insurance Liability

Own a dog or plan on getting one? Don’t let your furry friend bite into your financial future – check your homeowners policy for restrictions or limits.

What you should know:

  1. The national average cost of a single dog bite claim in 2018 was $39,017, according to Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).
  2. Some insurance companies exclude certain dog breeds from homeowners insurance, while other companies will consider an individual dog’s behavior before offering coverage.
  3. Most of the time, dog bites can be prevented through education and responsible dog ownership.

In more than 60 million U.S. households, dogs are a beloved “part of the family. But dogs in your care also can be a source of liability if they injure people or other pets. More than 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs each year, with children being the most common victim of dog bites, followed by senior citizens.

Dog Bite Insurance Coverage

Homeowners and Renters Insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability, which means that if a pet you own injures someone and they suffer an injury and/or seek damages, your insurance will help pay the cost of your defense and pay damages up to the limits of the policy. Most homeowners policies provide $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage, but that figure is much lower for Renters Insurance. And if the claim exceeds the limits of the policy, the dog owner is responsible for any damages above that amount, including legal expenses.

Most, but not all, insurance companies insure homeowners and renters who own dogs. Some companies exclude certain breeds from coverage, while many focus on the individual dog’s behavior. If your dog bites someone or attacks a pet from outside your household, most insurance companies are likely to recognize your dog as an increased risk. Your insurance company then may charge a higher premium, non-renew your Homeowners or Renters Insurance policy or exclude your dog from liability coverage.

Dog Bite Prevention

Even the most friendly and docile dog may bite if they become frightened or startled, or if they are defending their toys, food or puppies. Taking a few precautions will help protect your family and reduce the chances of your beloved dog biting someone. 

  • If you don’t have a dog yet it’s important to contact your insurance agent or company before adopting a dog to find out if your insurance company excludes certain breeds from coverage. 
  • Dog bite liability laws and breed-specific statutes vary by state and municipalities. Make sure you know your state and local laws before getting a dog.
  • Spay or neuter your dog. Studies show that dogs are three times less likely to bite if they have been neutered.
  • Socialize your dog so that it becomes more comfortable around people and other animals. Also, always leash your dog in public so you are better able to maintain control.
  • Discourage children from disturbing a dog that is eating or sleeping, and always supervise children when they are around dogs. 
  • Play non-aggressive games such as fetch. Playing aggressive games like tug-of-war can encourage inappropriate behavior.
  • Always ask an owner for permission before petting their dog, and make sure your children do the same before petting an unfamiliar dog.
  • Do not approach a strange dog and avoid eye contact with a dog that appears threatening. If an unfamiliar dog approaches you, stay calm and stay still and stand with the side of your body facing the dog. Wait for the dog to pass or slowly back away.

Other Resources
American Kennel Club
Centers for Disease Control and Protection

Dog Bite Liability