Fido may be like a member of the family, but from an insurance standpoint, your pooch is a big hairy liability and a lawsuit waiting to happen. Do you have enough homeowners insurance to cover your assets if your dog decides to take a chunk out of a houseguest?
Yes, your basic homeowners insurance or renters insurance typically covers dog bites, but consider these sobering stats:
Dog bites make up 1/3 of all homeowners insurance liability claims
The number of dog bite claims increased 8.89% in 2008
In the U.S. more than 4.5 million are bitten annually, and nearly a million of those bites require medical treatment
The average cost of a dog bite claim in 2008 was $24,461, up 28% since 2003
With medical costs going up and research showing the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards on the rise, the $100,000 to $300,000 liability coverage in your typical homeowner’s insurance policy could leave you at risk. You could find yourself responsible for legal expenses and other medical costs in excess of your coverage. A personal excess liability policy (aka umbrella liability policy) could help protect you an additional $1 million to $10 million to cover you in a wide range of potential liabilities including dog bites. The typical annual cost of $150 to $300 for the first $1 million on a personal umbrella liability policy is cheap insurance compared to losing everything you have in a court case.
Depending on where you live, you may be liable under three different types of dog-bite laws. Under certain dog-bite statutes, you’re liable for any human or property damage your dog causes. Some states have one-bite rules that excuse or limit liability on the first incident – but after that, Rover is considered to be potentially vicious. Under negligence laws, you’re on the hook if it can be demonstrated that you neglected to exhibit reasonable control over Rover (which is why you should always have your dog on a leash when off your own property).
Of course, all the personal liability coverage in the world is no substitute for personal responsibility. It’s your dog. Train it. Give it adequate exercise, clean water, good food and vet care. Protect your dog from teasing and stressful situations. Don’t leave an unsupervised dog with an infant or small child. Don’t encourage aggressive behavior with rough play. Combine commonsense and adequate personal liability insurance to limit your financial risk.