A recent report by the Insurance Information Institute highlights a disturbing trend. According to an analysis of homeowners insurance data, dog bites accounted for more than a third of all liability claims paid through that insurance last year — up 6.4 percent over 2008.
The average cost of a dog bite claim was $24,840, also up from 2008, when the average claim cost $24,461, and the number of claims went up by 4.8 percent in that period. Worse, the cost of the average claim for a dog bite or other domestic animal attack has risen by nearly 30 percent since 2003
“The rise in dog bite claims over the last seven years (2003-2009) can be attributed to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which have risen well above the rate of inflation in recent years,” said the Institute’s vice president Loretta Worters.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 4.7 million people in the U.S. require medical care after being bitten by dogs each year — nearly 900,000 of them children. On average, 16 people die from domestic dog attacks annually.
Injuries to children are by far the most common, with the highest rate of dog bite injuries occurring in children five to nine years old.
With more than half of all dog bites occurring on the dog owner’s property, it’s hard to say this is merely a problem of negligent dog owners. All dog owners need to take active steps to prevent these injuries and the liability they bring about.
Protect Yourself, Your Guests, Your Dog and Your Assets
A single dog bite lawsuit can cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees and lost income — even if you win. Worse, a serious dog bite can result in injuries that last a lifetime, usually to someone you know and care about, and threatens to take away your beloved companion animal.
“Most dogs are friendly, loving members of the family,” said Worters. “But even normally docile dogs may bite when they are frightened or when protecting their puppies, owners or food.”
There are two things every dog owner should take to prevent these tragedies. First, take the right steps to prevent your dog from biting. These include proper training and socialization, proper care and veterinary treatment, spaying or neutering, and avoiding situations that put your dog in a fearful or aggressive position.
Second, get appropriate insurance. Most insurance companies offer homeowners and renters insurance policies that offer dog bite liability. When choosing insurance, keep in mind that if a dog bite claim that does end up being filed and it exceeds your coverage limit, you are personally responsible for paying the rest.
Bearing that in mind, you may need to buy a personal excess liability policy, also known as an umbrella liability policy. As always, work with a reputable company with a good record of paying claims.
“Lawsuits Can Take a Bite Out of Your Wallet; Be a Responsible Dog Owner” (Insurance Information Institute, August 18, 2010)