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Does Homeowners Insurance Cover Dog Bites?

All dogs can bite, regardless of breed and temperament. Here's what dog owners should know about the coverage home insurance provides.

two dogs fighting

Homeowners insurance can cover legal and medical expenses if your dog bites someone, but only if your dog is included in your policy's liability coverage. Some insurers may exclude your dog from your policy or hike up your rates if they deem the risk is too great. Dog bite claim payouts average more than $36,000, so you should make sure you're fully protected in case the unexpected happens.

Dog bite liability and homeowners insurance

Homeowners insurance includes personal liability coverage, which is a protection that can pay for legal and medical costs if you are sued. This is the part of your home insurance a dog bite would fall under. That means for your home insurance policy to cover a dog bite, your dog must be included in your personal liability coverage.

Personal liability applies if a claim or lawsuit is brought against you for (1) bodily injury to someone else or (2) damage to someone else's property. It's important to note that liability coverage does not cover people on your policy, or "insureds." So, if your dog bites a family member or damages your property, homeowners insurance typically won't cover it.

We rarely see limits lower than $100,000 for personal liability coverage. However, if you own a dog, you may want to increase this limit, because if your coverage limit is reached, you can be responsible for paying the difference out of pocket. You can also consider an umbrella policy, which can extend your liability protection.

Does homeowners insurance cover dog bites off your property?

Yes, so long as your dog is included in your personal liability coverage. Liability protection applies anywhere in the world, even if you're off your residential premises. That means if your dog bites someone on a walk, someone in the park or your mailman, you're still covered.

Does homeowners insurance cover a dog bite lawsuit?

Yes, homeowners insurance can help pay legal and medical fees if you end up in a lawsuit after a dog bite. Coverage falls under the personal liability portion of a homeowners insurance policy, but your insurance company won't necessarily cover your dog.

Will my homeowners insurance company cover my dog?

If you want coverage for dog bites, you'll have to let your insurance company know that you have a dog. Insurance companies sometimes have rules regarding specific breeds. Others won't cover any dog, period. In at least two states, Michigan and Pennsylvania, it is illegal to deny homeowners insurance coverage based on your dog's breed or exclude your pooch from your policy.

Some companies won't insure "bully breeds," which are breeds that are considered particularly dangerous, either for their bite strength or demeanor. Common restricted dog breeds are:

  • Akitas
  • German Shepherds
  • Mastiffs
  • Pit bulls
  • Rottweilers

After a bite incident, your insurance company may raise your rates or even drop coverage for your dog. Some insurers may also give you the option to maintain coverage by taking your dog to behavior modification training. If you lose coverage for your dog, it's probably time to consider switching companies, as we don't recommend owning a dog without liability protection.

Average cost of a dog bite claim

The average cost of a dog bite claim is around $36,000, according to data that State Farm releases every year. Dog bite claim settlements are so costly because they can include several expenses, including medical bills, legal fees, pain and suffering and lost wages.

Average dog bite claim
Year Average cost per claim Claims paid Number of claims
2015 37,214 $571,300,000 15,352
2016 33,230 $602,200,000 18,123
2017 37,051 $686,300,000 18,522
2018 39,017 $674,900,000 17,297
4-year average $36,628 $633,675,000 17,324
Source: State Farm and Insurance Information Institute

In fact, dog bite claims are one of the most expensive homeowners insurance claims to settle. Fire and lightning are by far the costliest, averaging more than $68,000 a claim. Dog bite claims are the second most expensive type of claim, at more than three times the cost of the average wind or hail claim and more than eight times the average theft claim.

graph of average cost of dog bite claims compared to other commmon types of claim

What to do if your dog bites someone

Acting quickly and appropriately if your dog bites someone is important, because taking the proper steps after an incident can ensure the bite victim receives proper medical attention and minimizes your liability. Properly defusing the situation may reduce your chances of being involved in a liability lawsuit. Here are some of the first steps you should take if your dog bites someone.

Confine your dog: Removing your dog after a bite incident prevents further attacks and defuses the situation.

Attend to the bite victim: Administer first aid and call 911 if necessary. A bite victim should see a doctor to make sure the wound heals properly and doesn't become infected.

Exchange contact information with the bite victim: You'll want to make sure the bite victim can contact you after receiving medical attention.

Once the immediate bite incident is over, you should gather copies of your dog's medical records, including its vaccination history. This is relevant information for the treatment of the bite, and you may need it if you are sued.

Dog bite laws

Local laws vary depending on where you live, but there are three general types of legislation governing liability for dog owners.

Types of dog bite liability
Regulation type When is the dog owner liable?
Dog bite statute Always
One-bite rule When the owner knew the dog was dangerous
Negligence laws Only if the dog owner was careless

Because state laws differ regarding liability for dog bites, we recommend looking up the laws in your state. Knowing your state's laws can also inform how much liability protection you need. For example, if your state uses negligence laws where you're liable only if you're found negligent, you may not need as much liability coverage as if your state has a dog bite statute where the dog owner is always liable.

In summary

If you own a dog, you should double-check that your insurance company includes it in your personal liability protection. If your dog is included, your homeowners insurance can cover a dog bite, but if its excluded, you won't have coverage. You have a few options if your insurance doesn't cover your dog, like looking for an insurer that insures all dogs regardless of breed or proving your dog's good behavior.

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