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Insurers Are Taking Steps to Limit Their Liability for Dog Bites

If you live in California and own a dog, you should know that you can be held financially responsible for the cost of any injury your dog may cause, including dog bite injuries. Most people are able to manage that potential for liability, however, because dog bites are typically covered by homeowners and renters insurance.

That insurance is expensive for insurers, however, and they're taking active steps to limit their exposure to such claims. According to the Insurance Information Institute, claims from dog bites make up more than a third of all homeowners insurance claims. In 2012, the organization says, insurers paid out 16,500 dog bite claims, and the total compensation owed to victims was $489 million. For a single insurer, 451 of those claims were in California -- and dog bite victims in our state were paid a total of $17,111,297 that year by State Farm alone.

Most insurance companies still do insure homeowners and renters for dog bite liability, typically offering policies ranging from $100,000 to $300,000 in coverage. Whenever a dog bite victim's claim exceeds the coverage amount, however, the dog's owner is responsible for any additional damages, which sometimes includes the victim's legal expenses.

Other insurance companies, however, are trying to free themselves from potential liability for animal bites. Some companies are simply refusing to offer dog bite liability coverage, while others are pressuring dog owners to sign liability waivers. Another strategy is to charge more for "high risk" animals, such as breeds considered more likely to bite or more likely to cause serious injuries when they bite.

Interestingly, the actual number of nationwide dog bite claims has dropped in the past 10 years. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the number of dog bite claims went down by 1.6 percent between 2003 and 2012, but the total cost per claim rose substantially.

Human beings have had domesticated dogs for at least 15,000 years -- perhaps as long as 30,000. We aren't going to end the human-dog friendship anytime soon, so we need to deal reasonably and responsibly with dog bite injuries. If you own a dog, be sure you're taking all reasonable steps to properly socialize your dog.

Sources:

  • Insurance Information Institute Issue Update, "Dog Bite Liability," May 2013
  • Insurance Information Institute Issue Update, "Dog Bite Claims: Infographic (Dog Bite Claims Received by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company | 2010)"

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