Who Let the Dogs Out?

Insurance paid bite victims more than $612 million last year.

Who Let the Dogs Out

Portions of July and August are sometimes known as the“dog days of summer.” That term actually has nothing to do with the behavior of dogs, but during summer dogs are outdoors more often. Make sure your dog stays on its best behavior — especially around strangers.

That’s important because dog bites and related injuries accounted for more than a third of all the money paid in homeowners insurance liability claims last year, costing more than $612 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

The number of dog bite claims nationwide rose to 18,123 in 2016 — up from 15,352 in 2015, an increase of 18 percent, the institute found. But the average cost per claim decreased by more than 9 percent — from $37,214 in 2015 to $33,795 last year.

“The decrease … could be attributed to a decrease in severity of injuries,” says Loretta Worters, an III vice president. “But the average cost per claim nationally has risen more than 70 percent from 2003 to 2016, due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs,” she explains.

California continued to have the largest number of claims in 2016, with 1,934 — up from 1,684 the previous year. It also had the highest total claims paid out — $76 million. Florida had the second-highest number of claims, with 1,325, but New York had the highest average cost per claim — $55,671.

You might feel that your dog would never bite anyone. But even docile dogs may bite if they are startled or defending their puppies, owners or food. Most victims are children, the elderly and service people — particularly mail carriers.

How can you reduce the likelihood of your dog biting someone? Here are five tips:

  • Ensure that your dog’s breed is appropriate for where you live and for your lifestyle.
  • Be especially watchful when children are around. Don’t leave your dog unattended with children.
  • Enroll your dog in an obedience class.
  • Keep your dog on a leash when in public or in a safe, contained area when at home.
  • Help your dog learn social skills by letting it visit other dogs at a dog park.

The chart below shows the top 10 states for number of claims, average cost per claim and total claims paid out in 2016.

State

Number of claims

Average cost per claim

Total claims paid (in millions)

CA

1,934

$39,452

$76.3

FL

1,325

$37,339

$49.5

NY

1,042

$55,671

$58.0

PA

988

$24,949

$24.6

TX

924

$21,760

$20.1

IL

910

$42,837

$39.0

OH

850

$34,265

$29.1

MI

782

$27,877

$21.8

NJ

537

$53,685

$28.8

GA

462

$29,351

$13.6

Top 10

9,754

$36,994

$360.8

Other

8,369

$30,066

$251.6

Total U.S.

18,123

$33,795

$612.4

In the meantime, ask your insurance agent whether your homeowners policy covers the cost of dog bites; if it doesn’t, add that coverage. If you’re a renter, obtain renters insurance that covers dog bites. Take it a step further and buy an umbrella insurance policy that covers anything your other policies don’t.

A dog with a checkered past could prevent you from getting homeowners insurance. Most carriers decide this on a case-by-case basis; some might overlook a minor incident in which a dog jumped on or scratched someone, but a serious attack might prompt a carrier to deny you coverage.

If you have concerns that your dog has behavioral problems, your first stop should be the family veterinarian, says Melissa Bain, an animal behavior specialist and member of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “They can advise you as to whether there is a medical component for which medication may be an appropriate element of an integrated treatment program, and whether or not a referral to a behavior specialist is warranted.”

Originally published in Inside Personal Finance August 2017

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