If you own a dog breed that insurers consider dangerous, you may end up paying a higher homeowners insurance premium — even if your dog has never bitten anyone.
Having coverage that includes dog attacks as a risk is vital for pet owners. Dog bites require medical costs and liability compensation. Furthermore, the most likely individuals to be bitten by a dog besides its owner are friends, neighbors and relatives. Without adequate protection, loved ones and the dog owner could face extreme financial burdens and strained relationships as the result of one mistake.
Insurance companies will generally insure homeowners with dogs, but with certain limitations. If you own a breed that’s statistically demonstrated to be violent, you may have to pay more in premiums, even if your dog has never shown a propensity toward biting. Some carriers will waive this fee if the dog has passed an accredited obedience school.
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The CDC estimates that over 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. 885,000 required hospitalization, and 350,000 required emergency medical attention. Over half of these incidents involved children.
Dog-bite related accidents cost insurance companies over $1 billion a year. According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites are now the single largest cause of home insurance claims.
2013 claims paid for dog insurance liability alone cost $483 million, over a third of overall claim dollars spent. The average cost per claim that year was $27,862. Many states had averages that were higher, such New York with an average cost per case of $43,122 and California with $33,709, which also had the highest number of dog bite incidents at 1,919. Putting together costs as a result of dog bites for California alone totals to $64.7 million in 2013.
Insurers have begun to seek ways to reduce their risk, so many are not surprised when insurers try to get off the hook for costly litigation. Home insurance policies may exclude dog bites, liabilities for certain dog breeds or liability for dogs in general.
These exclusions often place undue burdens on society and pet owners to find a way to protect themselves from this risk. While it may be unfair for insurance companies to push off these risks onto others, there are ways to still protect yourself even if your current homeowners insurance policy excludes your dog.
Obviously, the last thing a pet owner would assume is that their dog would intentionally harm someone, but insurance policies exist to prepare adequately for even the most unlikely events. Having your dog attack, maim or injure someone may be extremely unlikely, but the possibility of this event occurring is a risk for which you should be prepared.
To assess the approximate risk, insurers look at data and develop premium charges or even potential exclusions based on what they see. Temperament scores by organizations such as the American Temperament Test Society find that several small dog breeds, usually not perceived as a risk, are seeing the highest fail rate for human interaction and aggression.
Despite these findings, certain breeds are highlighted over others. Often, this stigma occurs because of the severity of the attacks rather than the overall number of attacks per breed. Another factor usually not taken into account is the overall number of breed owners compared to incidents to assess the relative risks. An uptick in popularity for a breed such as the pit bull could mean more careless owners adopting animals rather than more aggressive animals being born.
Regardless, some insurers choose to only look at certain data. One such study by the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) found that over a 20-year period, the following ten breeds were responsible for over 230 deaths.
A more recent study compiled by the humane community publication Animals 24-7 found the following:
An unfortunate reality is that if you own or are considering owning any of these breeds, you can expect added difficulty and/or expense in obtaining home insurance coverage. As you work your way down the list, finding an insurer that is willing to assume the added liability of a potentially dangerous dog may become easier.
Though finding inexpensive insurance may be difficult, consider the importance of having coverage in case you may be held liable for your dog's actions. Some states have a one-bite law that requires victims to prove that the owner was aware that their dog was potentially dangerous — essentially giving homeowners one biting attack that they are not liable for. Other states hold dog owners responsible for all unprovoked incidents.
Some dog breeds are hard to insure or are even blacklisted. Though pit bull and Rottweiler owners often swear by their dogs' loyalty, many may find their pooch to be utterly un-insurable.
Other states make it illegal to discriminate against breeds or exclude dog bite liability, but allow insurers to charge higher premiums. Be sure to research the liability laws of your state and contact your insurance agent or carrier if you already own or plan to purchase any of these breeds.
As a dog owner for a dog of any size, your animal poses a risk for medical costs and subsequent legal liability. Even tiny dogs can cause disfiguring bites, especially on small children.
If you own an average, medium-sized dog, your policy should have a limit of at least $300,000 each for medical costs and legal costs. Larger dogs should require a higher limit, possibly as high as $1 million to $3 million if you happen to own a particularly large or dangerous breed. Large coverage amounts like this can be added relatively affordably through umbrella policies.
You will want to watch out for policy riders or exclusions that exempt coverage for the following:
As mentioned before, an umbrella policy is a good idea. These services offer coverage in excess of $1 million for cases involving liability. You may also be able to extend your policy’s coverage limits with certain add-on services.
Pay close attention to exemptions in your “exclusions” section of your policy contract, as well as under the declarations portion to see if dog bites are explicitly mentioned as a portion of your coverage. Other times, dog bite coverage can be dropped as a result of a “rider” or amendment to your policy sent at a later date.
If your insurer cannot provide coverage for your dog and you live in a state where your breed is legally discriminated against, you can find insurance just for dog owners. These carriers were created to provide specialized products geared specifically towards protecting dog owners in instances of liability. A list of possible insurers can be found at the bottom of this page from dogbitelaw.com.
Policies generally cover spouses, relatives and dependents living in your household under 21 years of age. Anyone covered by the policy will be protected from loss, but they cannot file a claim as victims. Be aware that people caring for your dog on your behalf can qualify for coverage under your delegation, making them protected against dog bite liability in the event that the dog bites someone else while under their care. These extensions can include:
Keep in mind that anyone insured will not be able to file claims as victims should they be attacked.
And remember, if your dog isn't insured, you could be held liable for any physical harm or legal fees that result from its actions. Don’t be dissuaded by the increased premiums you might have to pay. Not protecting yourself from these considerable risks would be financially reckless.
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