Your annual reminder: Any dog can bite


group of good dogs to illustrate dog bite prevention

This week is Dog Bite Prevention Week and the US Postal Service would like to remind you that although there are about 78 million good doggies here in the U.S., “any dog can bite.” They should know. Their carriers suffer about 6,000 dog attacks a year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4.5 million people are victims of dog attacks each year. The most susceptible to dog attacks are small children, the elderly and postal carriers, in that order.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) says that most, if not all, the dog bites that occur are preventable. They tally some recent numbers: In 2017 there were nearly 350,000 people treated at hospital emergency rooms for non-fatal dog-related injuries. Of those people, there were nearly 10,600 children two years old or younger who visited emergency rooms as a result of dog bites​.

Liability Insurance and Dog Bites

Besides the human and canine trauma that can result, dog bites are also a costly problem. In 2018, dog bites and other dog-related injuries tallied $675 million in liability claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) and studies by State Farm. In terms of states, California is #1, with 2166 claims at an average claim cost of $45,542. Florida is #2, with 1281 claims at an average claim cost of $43,893. Texas, Illinois and New York round out the top five states in terms of claims counts and expenses. You can check to see where your state falls on this III interactive state-by-state dog bite liability map.

Your homeowners insurance policy will typically cover and claims related to dog bites, up to the liability limits. If you have a dog, you should talk to your agent about liability limits and also the type of dog you have. I talking about dog bite liability, III says that

“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.”

See our prior post on dog breeds that are sometimes blacklisted by insurance companies.

Helpful dog bite prevention resources

Dogs attacks occur for a number of reasons. The dog may be protecting territory. They may feel threatened by strangers or startled. They may be annoyed if they are eating. American Humane offers these tips for dog owners:

  • Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog, even if it is a family pet.
  • Interactions between children and dogs should always be monitored to ensure the safety of both your child and your dog.
  • Teach your children to treat the dog with respect and not to engage in rough or aggressive play.
  • Make sure your pet is socialized as a young puppy so it feels at ease around people and other animals.
  • Never put your dog in a position where s/he feels threatened.
  • Walk and exercise your dog regularly to keep him/her healthy and to provide mental stimulation.
  • Use a leash in public to ensure you can control your dog.
  • Regular veterinary care is essential to maintain your dog’s health; a sick or injured dog is more likely to bite.
  • Be alert, if someone approaches you and your dog – caution them to wait before petting the dog, give your pet time to be comfortable with a stranger.

Find more dog bite prevention tips:

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.

Dog owners: protect yourself from an expensive dog bite claim


Do you have a dog? If so, you want to be sure that your dog is trained, that you comply with any state or local restraint laws, and that you are adequately covered by your insurance. Although the number of dog bite claims is trending down, the cost for those claims is trending up – the average dog bite claim is now $37,214. That’s the national average so depending on where you live, the cost might be higher: Arizona was $56,654, California is $44,983 and New York is $44,320. Ouch.

May 15 through 21 is dog Bite Prevention Week. Learn how to prevent dog bites and how to keep dogs from taking a bite out of your insurance.

The Insurance Information Institute has some great information on Dog Bite Liability:

There are three kinds of law that impose liability on owners:

1) A dog-bite statute: where the dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes without provocation.
2) The one-bite rule: where the dog owner is responsible for an injury caused by a dog if the owner knew the dog was likely to cause that type of injury—in this case, the victim must prove the owner knew the dog was dangerous.
3) Negligence laws: where the dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.

Also, see our prior post about 10 dog breeds that might cause problems with your home insurance

Some insurance companies will limit homeowners insurance availability based on dog breed or dog history. PropertyCasualty360 has an article on the 10 dog breeds most often blacklisted by home insurance carriers.

Many insurance companies don’t have a blanket breed ban. The MSPCA cites several national insurers that will instead “… work on a case by case basis, considering the individual dog’s behavior and history, and may require a meet and greet with the dog and/or a Canine Good Citizen certification.”

And here’s a good infographic from the American Veterinary Medical Association:

dog bite infographic

Ten dog breeds that might cause problems with your home insurance


angry dog with bared teethPeople love their pets so discussions of dangerous dogs can be a controversial topic — but when it comes to insurance, it’s a costly issue. In 2014, dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out – a total of more than $530 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute. The number of dog bite claims are going down – they dropped by 4.7% in 2014 – but the average cost per dog bite claim is climbing. In 2014, it was up 15 percent to $32,072 – compared with $27,862 in 2013.

Some insurance companies will limit homeowners insurance availability based on dog breed or dog history. PropertyCasualty360 has an article on the 10 dog breeds most often blacklisted by home insurance carriers. They say:

“The breed of dog you own could make it more difficult to secure Homeowners insurance. Insurers are hesitant in offering coverage to homeowners who own breeds and mixes that insurers believe are more likely to bite and cause injuries. According to DogsBite.org, more than 700 cities in the U.S. have adopted breed-specific laws since the mid-1980s, following the rise in popularity of pit bulls in the general population.”

Is it legal for an insurance company to deny coverage or otherwise discriminate based on dog breed? Yes, and the MSPCA explains why:

“The law does not prohibit insurance companies from discrimination based on breed. While breed-specific city and town ordinances have been challenged on constitutional grounds, such as due process and equal protection, insurance companies–because they are not part of the government–are not subject to these constitutional restrictions.”

Many insurance companies don’t have a blanket breed ban. The MSPCA cites several national insurers that will instead “… work on a case by case basis, considering the individual dog’s behavior and history, and may require a meet and greet with the dog and/or a Canine Good Citizen certification.”

If you have a dog or are thinking of getting a dog, talk to your insurance agent about the insurance considerations.

Here are some other dogs & insurance resources that might be helpful