Will My Homeowners Insurance Cover Dog Bites?

Owning a dog brings joy to any family, especially if you have children, but there are a lot of responsibilities that come along with it. If you own a home, you are required to have homeowners insurance, and if you own a dog, covering that liability on your insurance policy is the responsible thing to do.

Homeowners insurance fundamentals

The basic coverage components of homeowners insurance are dwelling, liability and medical payments. For example, the average cost of homeowners insurance in New Jersey is $711 for $200,000 dwelling, $100,000 liability, and a $1,000 deductible. Typically, dog bites are covered under the standard liability provisions, but some insurance companies exclude certain breeds that they deem to be dangerous. Some of these breeds are pit bulls, rottweilers, boxers, mastiffs and shar peis, just to name a few.

If you own a dog that becomes involved in a biting incident and you don’t have any homeowners, renters and/or umbrella coverage, you will be potentially liable for tens of thousands of dollars or more in medical payments to the victim. In a lot of cases, the victims have great difficulty collecting for damages and injuries because many dog owners are uninsured and/or under-insured.

Bankruptcy can happen

Alternatively, the dog owner can be sued and forced into bankruptcy. Some homeowners try to get the bankruptcy discharged, but that is hard to do in cases where the dog has attacked others in the past. Medical bills for dog bites can average up to $250,000. Many of these victims frequently require expensive, painful, or time consuming reconstructive surgeries and treatments. In 2012, some 27,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery because of dog attacks, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. In more than half of the states in the US, dog bite lawsuits are based on strict liability statutes, which means the victim doesn’t have to prove that the dog owner was negligent or knew the dog was dangerous. This is referred to as the “one bite rule”.

What you should do

Dangerous breeds make up a small percentage (about nine percent) of the dog population in the US, however, dog attacks involving these breeds are in very high proportions. The Los Angeles dog bite lawyers at Avrek Law outline important information regarding dog bites and the proper ways to handle these cases:

  • Call the police and animal control to file a claimant.
  • Try to identify the owner of the dog.
  • Try to identify insurance coverage.
  • Collect evidence as you can.

If you have a medium-size dog, $300,000 is a reasonable amount of coverage that should provide enough liquidity to provide protection for anyone who is a dog bite victim. This is important because nearly any dog could bite defensively if provoked, but guard dogs and certain breeds may become more aggressive, of course. If you become a dog bite victim, you will also need to know what types of compensation you are entitled to if you file a claim. This includes reimbursement of medical bills, loss of wages, and/or employment and punitive damages.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, $686 million was paid out in liability claims related to dog bites and other dog related injuries in 2017. The average cost paid out for dog bite claims nationwide was $37,051 in 2017, compared with $33,230 in 2016. California continued to have the largest number of claims in the United States, at 2,228 in 2017, an increase from 1,934 in 2016. The state with the second highest number of claims was Florida at 1,345. Florida had the highest average cost per claim at $44,700.

The trend in higher costs per claim is attributable not only to dog bites, but also to dogs knocking down children, cyclists, the elderly, and others, which can result in injuries that worsen the potential severity of the losses.

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