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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Are You Covered if Your Dog Bites Someone?

By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy Pixabay

Being a dog owner myself, I’m always ready to field questions about whether a dog bite is a covered claim on homeowner’s insurance.  Face it, any dog can bite, whether it’s a pit bull or a chihuahua.  If a dog feels its territory has been violated or if it senses fear or aggression on the part of a stranger, there’s always the potential for a bite to occur.  Depending on the severity of the attack and the breed of dog involved, a dog bite can come back to bite the owner if the victim decides to take the matter to court.  While it’s true that the personal liability and medical coverage contained in your homeowner’s policy can potentially pay for medical and legal expenses were your dog to bite someone, the fact is not all dog bites are a covered claim. The only way to know whether you’re covered is to either read your homeowner’s policy carefully or talk to your agent to find out for sure.  The four factors to be most concerned with are coverage, limits, location, and exclusions.

Are you covered?

Maybe yes and maybe no.  While many insurers provide coverage for dog bites in a standard homeowner’s policy, others require their customers to add an endorsement to their policy before the coverage kicks in.  Another thing to be aware of is that your policy will NOT cover the medical expenses if your dog bites anyone in your immediate family.  That means if you, your spouse or your kids get bitten by your dog, don’t expect your homeowner’s policy to cover the medical expenses.

What are the limits of coverage on my policy?

A typical homeowner’s policy has liability limits as low as $100,000 and as high as $500,000.  Depending on the severity of a dog attack, these limits may not be high enough to cover a judgment issued by the court.  If the judgment exceeds the limits of your policy, you will be on the hook to make up the rest out of your pocket.  To prevent this from happening, talk to your agent about acquiring an umbrella policy that can extend the limits of your existing homeowner’s policy to $1 to $10 million.  You may also come to find that the medical coverage limits may also be inadequate to your needs should your dog attack someone.  Typical limits on standard homeowner’s policies are set at $5,000.  This may not be sufficient to pay for a victim’s medical bills should your dog bite someone.

Did the bite occur on or off your property?

While most homeowner’s policies provide coverage for dog bites that occur on and off your property, not all of them do so.  If this is the case, it means if your dog gets out of your yard and attacks a neighbor, or it gets off the leash only to attack a perfect stranger, you may come to find the injuries aren’t considered a covered claim. 

What kind of dog do you own?

The Center for Disease Control reported that more than 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year.  Since the average payout in case of dog bite was more than $50,000 in 2020, and the insurance industry shelled out more than $800 million for dog bites that year, the easiest course of action open to insurers is to exclude breeds that are most likely to bite.  This means if you own (or are thinking of getting) an Akita, Bullmastiff, Chow, Doberman, German Shephard, Great Dane, Malamute, Pit Bull, Siberian Husky, Staffordshire Terrier, or a wolf hybrid, you may come to find that these breeds are excluded from coverage on your policy.  The single biggest reason for a claim involving a dog bite to be declined is due to the breed and/or past history of a dog.  Even if you own a mutt that has even a fraction of any of these or other restricted breeds mixed into its genetic makeup, you may not be covered in case of a dog bite.  Similarly, if a dog of any breed has a history of biting, you may come to find your policy may no longer cover you.  (The only way to know for sure if any of these applies to your policy is to call your agent to ask about exclusions.)

What can you do if your policy doesn’t cover your dog?

While some insurance companies offer endorsements that will extend your homeowner’s policy to cover you in case of dog bite, others do not.  If that’s the case, you have two choices to rectify the situation:  Either change carriers or seek animal liability coverage from a third party.  There are specialty insurers who offer this coverage as a separate policy.  This way you can have the best of both worlds.

Are there exceptions to the rule?

As with any rule there are always exceptions.  For instance, if your dog is service dog that has earned a Canine Good Citizen certificate from the American Kennel Club, your insurer may issue an exception.  Likewise, if you can provide a DNA test that proves your mixed breed dog contains no genes from any breeds on the restricted list, you may qualify for an exception.

What can you do to prevent dog bites?

As Ben Franklin pointed out, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  The best way to prevent your dog from biting anyone is to keep your dog on a leash when it isn’t in your yard, and to keep it away from visitors when they enter your home.  Taking the time to take your dog to an obedience class is also a good way to make your pet a better four-legged citizen that’s less likely to react badly when it encounters a human it’s unfamiliar with.

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more ways to save on flood insurance, check out her website at http://aplusallfloridainsuranceinc.com/

2 comments:

  1. It's been my experience that it's actually small dogs that are most likely to bite.

    ReplyDelete
  2. It's more common than people think. I see a lot of dog's left unattended when I am Jogging and some times they come after me. Luckily I haven't been bitten.

    ReplyDelete

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