Avoid Being Bitten by A Lawsuit By Being a Responsible Dog Owner

Last year, nationwide, nearly 5 million people were bitten by dogs. To help educate the public on how best to prevent dog bites, the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Postal Service are sponsoring National Dog Bite Prevention Week May 15–21.

Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability. Most policies provide $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage. If the claim exceeds that limit, the dog owner is personally responsible for all damages above that amount, including legal expenses. Regardless of fault, a liability policy also provides medical coverage in the event a dog bites a friend or neighbor—this enables them to submit their medical bills directly to the homeowner’s insurance company. Homeowners can generally get $1,000 to $5,000 worth of medical coverage.

Most insurance companies will insure homeowners with dogs. However, once a dog has bitten someone, the insurance company may charge a higher premium or exclude the dog from coverage. Some companies require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites. Some will cover a pet only if the owner takes the dog to classes aimed at modifying its behavior.

A single lawsuit—even if won—can end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars. The personal liability coverage available through a standard homeowners or automobile policy simply may not be enough. Therefore, NYIA advises homeowners to consider purchasing a personal excess liability policy. Also known as an umbrella liability policy, it protects you against personal liabilities, such as dog bites, that could impact a substantial portion of your assets.

The best way to protect yourself is to prevent your dog from biting anyone in the first place. The most dangerous dogs are those that fall victims to human shortcomings such as poor training, irresponsible ownership and breeding practices that foster viciousness or neglect and abuse. To reduce the chances of a dog biting someone, the following steps are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Consult with a professional (e.g., veterinarian, animal behaviorist, or responsible breeder) to learn about suitable breeds of dogs for your household and neighborhood.
  • Spend time with a dog before buying or adopting it.  Use caution when bringing a dog into a home with an infant or toddler.  Dogs with histories of aggression are inappropriate in households with children.
  • Be sensitive to cues that a child is fearful of or apprehensive about a dog, and if so, delay acquiring a dog. Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog.
  • Have your dog spayed or neutered.  Studies show that dogs are three times more likely to bite if they are NOT neutered.
  • Socialize your dog so it knows how to act with other people and animals.
  • Discourage children from disturbing a dog that is eating or sleeping.
  • Play non-aggressive games with your dog, such as “go fetch.”  Playing aggressive games like “tug-of-war” can encourage inappropriate behavior.
  • Avoid exposing your dog to new situations in which you are unsure of its response.
  • Never approach a strange dog and always avoid eye contact with a dog that appears threatening.
  • Immediately seek professional advice from veterinarians, animal behaviorists, or responsible breeders if the dog develops aggressive or undesirable behaviors.

Source: The New York Insurance Association (NYIA®) For more information on NYIA, visit www.nyia.org.