The Surprising Cost of Dog Bite Insurance Claims

The Surprising Cost of Dog Bite Insurance Claims

My best friend is loyal and lovable. But Andy doesn’t fetch anything for me. For that, I have to turn to my other best friends — Summer and Vicki.

Come to think of it, our dogs don’t fetch anything for me either. Instead, they wake us up at 4 a.m. to go outside, and Summer insists on lying on top of Jean when we’re watching TV — an imposition, considering Summer weighs 95 pounds.

Still, it's more fun to pet them than Andy.

But Andy won’t ever cost me $37,214. And the dogs might — if one of them bites somebody.

Even dogs that are normally friendly might bite. With little warning, a quick snap of their jaws might happen when they’re confronted by strangers, startled or in an unfamiliar setting.

Dog bites and other dog-related injuries (dogs knocking down children, cyclists and the elderly, for example, causing fractures and blunt-force trauma injuries) accounted for more than a third of all the money paid in homeowner’s insurance claims in 2015, according to the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm, the nation’s largest writer of homeowner’s insurance policies. The total bill: $571.3 million!

More than half of all dog bite victims are children, State Farm says. The elderly and home service people, including mail carriers, are also high on the list. The Postal Service says 6,549 carriers were attacked or bitten by dogs in 2015.

Why are dog bites so common? Well, with nearly 78 million pet dogs in the country — one for every four people, according to the American Pet Products Association — you might wonder why there aren’t more bites.

If you own a dog (or even if it’s the other way around), make sure you have insurance to cover the costs of a bite. If you’re renting your home, obtain renter’s insurance, because most landlords don’t provide coverage for dog bite incidents. If you are a homeowner, ask your insurance agent if your policy covers dog bites. You should also have an umbrella liability policy — one that covers anything your other policies don’t. You might even check with your insurer before you select a puppy, because some insurers won't cover certain breeds.

Here are steps you can take to reduce the likelihood of your dog biting someone:

  • Ensure that your breed is appropriate for where you live and for your lifestyle.
  • Be especially careful when your dog is around children; they should never be left together unsupervised.
  • Enroll your dog (actually, that means you) in an obedience class.
  • Keep your dog on a leash when in public and in a safe, contained area at home.
  • Socialize your dog by letting it visit other dogs at a dog park.

And if nothing else works, you can always replace your dog with Andy. You’ll still have a best friend you can always count on.

Originally published in Inside Personal Finance November 2016

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