December 03, 2020

Dog Bites and Your Homeowner’s Insurance

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According to the American Pet Products Association, American households include almost 90 million dogs. And even though most dog owners will swear their dogs are friendly (myself included), a 2015 study by the CDC estimated 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.

GermanShep_FBUnfortunately, certain breeds of dogs tend to bite people more than others and cause more damage when they do. According to a study published by The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, “unknown breed” was the most common, but pit bull, mixed-breed, German Shepherd, terrier, and Rottweiler filled out the top of the list. The study also created a severity scale, which measures the bite force in pounds per square inch (PSI). Doberman Pinschers were near the top of the list with a bite force of 600 PSI, with Rottweilers at 328 and pit bulls at 305. As a point of reference, humans bite with a force of between 150 and 200 PSI.

The average cost of a homeowner’s insurance dog bite claim was $44,760 in 2019. New York topped the list at $55,800, while Illinois was just out of the top 25% at an average claim of $48,098. Claim costs include emergency medical treatment, surgery, physical therapy, pain and suffering, and lost income. Note that these numbers do not reflect claims costs for injuries resulting from a dog knocking someone down when jumping or playing.

In terms of insurance coverage, your policy will not pay for injuries to you or a family member living in your household. If your dog bites or attacks a neighbor, pedestrian, visitor, or another person’s pet, your policy will provide coverage, unless it was specifically excluded. Most insurance policies do not contain dog bite exclusions. Instead, some companies will decline to provide a home insurance policy if you own certain breeds of dogs.

doberman FBIf you find yourself in the unfortunate situation where your dog bites or otherwise injures someone else, do not try to avoid responsibility. Many people are afraid of dogs and minimizing their injury or otherwise not acknowledging their injury will not make it go away. In fact, it could increase the cost of the claim as the injured person may seek to punish you for not responding appropriately. Regain control of your dog as quickly as possible, offer first aid and/or call 911 if necessary. You will also need to contact your local animal control office, which may require you to take additional action. This could include mandatory visits to your vet, confining your dog to your home, or confining your dog at your vet’s office or shelter. These are all unpleasant and uncomfortable realities, but owning a dog comes with responsibilities that can’t be ignored in a crisis.

If you know this is a serious incident, contact your insurance agent or company within one business day. It cannot be stressed enough not to delay the process as it will only increase the costs if you appear uncaring to the claimant.

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Depending on the circumstances of the claim, non-renewal of your home insurance policy may result. State laws vary on if, when, and how your policy could be non-renewed, but rest assured that it does not happen overnight. Your agent will be familiar with the non-renewal laws in your state and he or she will have plenty of time to find alternative coverage if necessary.


Have questions? David Miller is The Plexus Groupe’s Vice President, Client Executive for Private Client Solutions. Contact Miller here.