Dog bites & insurance


cute but wary dog to illustrate dog bite risk

Two things you don’t want to be: You don’t want to be one of the 4.5 million people bitten by a dog in an average year, and you don’t want to be one of the 4.5 million dog owners paying for a dog bite claim. Last year, the average cost paid out for dog bite claims nationwide was $37,051. Even if your insurer covers all or most of the claim, the incident will be traumatic for the victim, for you and for your dog. It’s not a good situation.

California is the top state for dog bite claims – perhaps unsurprising, given the population. The state had 2,228 dog bite claims at an average claim cost of $40,563.49. Ouch.

Here’s a snapshot of the dog bite / claim situation here in New England.

State / Rank / # claims / Avg cost of claim
MA  – #14 – 429 – $34,117.48
CT – #15 – 418 – $39,910.23
NH – #38 – 86 – $39,306.26
ME – #39 -84 – $31,117.59
RI – #41 – 73 – $36,324.00
VT – # 48 – 36 – 37,370.76

This data is from the Insurance Information Institute – to learn more or to view other states see their interactive map on dog bite claims.

How dog bites affect your insurance

Will the liability portion of your homeowners or rental policy cover dog bite? Typically, yes, at least up to your policy’s limits, but there are some exceptions. The Insurance Information Institute discusses these:

Some insurance companies will not insure homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls. Others decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether an individual dog, regardless of its breed has been deemed vicious. Some insurers do not ask the breed of a dog owned when writing or renewing homeowners insurance and do not track the breed of dogs involved in dog bite incidents. However, once a dog has bitten someone, it poses an increased risk. In that instance, the insurance company may charge a higher premium, nonrenew the homeowner’s insurance policy or exclude the dog from coverage.

Some insurers are taking steps to limit their exposure to such losses. Some companies require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, while others charge more for owners of breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers and others are not offering insurance to dog owners at all. Some will cover a pet if the owner takes the dog to classes aimed at modifying its behavior or if the dog is restrained with a muzzle, chain or cage.

Here is a list of 10 dog breeds that are sometimes blacklisted by insurance companies.

If you have a dog, talk about it with your independent agent when you shop to buy or renew a homeowners or a renters’ policy. Chances are, there will be no problem but be truthful even if you have a breed that might cause a problem. Lying on an insurance policy is never a good idea – it could be the basis for a claim denial or even a policy cancellation.

Many insurance companies aren’t breed-specific in their coverage. If you have a tough-to-place breed, your agent should be able to find the right coverage. But even if you have dog in a low-risk breed, things can and do happen. Even gentle dogs can bite under certain circumstances. Plus, bites aren’t the only exposure. From dog owners, here’s what you need to know about liability insurance:

Dig into pet-related policy details even if your dog wouldn’t hurt a flea. Bite claims may be the headliner, but they are just one kind of incident in a broader category.

“Technically, it’s a ‘dog-related injury’ [claim],” said Paul — the same coverage restrictions or conditions would typically also apply if say, your friendly, energetic dog causes injury by knocking over an elderly house guest or startling a passing bicyclist.

Whatever kind of dog you own, talk to your insurance agent about increasing your liability limits or getting an umbrella policy, which will boost your coverage. It’s worth discussing and considering the options.

In addition to limiting your financial risk, you should also take steps to reduce the risk of a bite occurring in the first place. Here are some tips from experts:

 

Winter Pet Care


winter pet care - photo of dogs in a blanket

Here in the frigid depths of January, sometimes all you want to do is hibernate. Just pile the pets on the bed, throw the covers over your head, and snooze until spring. But people (and their pets) aren’t wired like bears and chipmunks: we can’t hibernate, even though the prospect sounds so appealingly cozy. We still have to go to work and the doggos still need to be walked.

Here are some tips to get you and your pets through the freezin’ season:

  • If it’s too cold for you, it’s too cold for them. While some breeds of dogs and cats are well-prepared for cold weather, most are not. Limit their time outdoors. Make sure short-haired breeds and smaller animals (who tend to lose body heat more quickly) have a warm coat on in addition to their natural protection.
  • Booties! Is there anything funnier than a dog doing the Big Shoe Dance the first time she is introduced to winter footwear? But beyond being able to laugh at your pet’s wounded dignity, booties serve two vital purposes: they protect tender paw pads from icy sidewalks and they prevent animals from licking road salt and other harmful or even poisonous chemicals (like antifreeze and other de-icers) from their paws.
  • No baths, please! Cats are remarkable self-cleaning little critters. Dogs… not so much. But unless your dog has been rolling in something stinky, try to hold off on the baths during winter. The oils that accumulate in their undercoat are great insulators, and stripping them off with soap leads to one shivering and miserable pupper. If you absolutely must wash your dog, make sure she’s thoroughly dry before letting her outside. Be aware that the last part to dry is the fur closest to the skin, and that’s the bit that most needs to be fully dry to offer the best protection from the elements. Wet fur on a cold day is no fun at all.
  • Make sure your pet has a warm bed, and thoroughly towel them off with a clean dry towel when they come back inside. Nobody wants to curl up for a post-walk nap with wet hair!
  • If your pets live outdoors, make sure they have a safe, warm, dry space to retreat to when the winter winds are howling. Consider using heat lamps in the barn or garage and put down warm bedding (or better yet, a raised and insulated platform) to keep your beasties snug and warm when it’s icy out.

If you follow these simple rules, your pets will stay safe and happy during the cold months. Keep your pets in tip-top shape by staying up to date with vet visits. And look into pet insurance – an affordable pet insurance policy can be a real blessing in the event of an accident or emergency. Contact your local independent insurance agent today to ask about pet coverage.