Pet owners

What You Need to Know about Dog Bite Insurance

    As a dog owner, it can be hard to look past seeing your furry friend as a beloved family member, especially if they’re the most well-mannered, perfectly trained pooch in the neighborhood.

    But regardless of their temperament and training, it’s essential to remember that dogs are animals who primarily interact with the world using their mouths. And, even if it’s a complete accident, dog bites are a real danger that take place every day.

    Yearly dog bite statistics infographic.
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    Whether it’s because playtime got a little too rough, or they acted out of fear, self-defense, or in response to provocation, dog bites are a major cause for concern among dog owners, making dog bite insurance a necessity.

    Below, our dedicated experts from PetScreening will explore the essential information every dog owner should know. We'll cover what bite insurance is, how it keeps you financially secure, and how to get it. 

    What’s dog bite insurance, and why do I need it?

    Despite what the phrase “dog bite insurance” might imply, there isn’t a specific type of insurance policy that covers dog bites alone.

    In general, damage caused by dog bites is typically covered under various types of common insurance policies, including homeowners insurance, renters insurance, and dog liability insurance. But we’ll discuss these topics in more detail later.

    Dog insurance for bites is important for dog owners to have because it helps protect them against significant financial liabilities that other insurance may not cover if their dog injures someone.

    Dog bite claim cost infographic.
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    The average cost per dog bite claim rose about 7.1% between 2019 and 2020 due to increased medical costs and the size of legal judgments and settlements. As of 2020, the average cost per dog bite claim was around $50,245.

    Without the necessary insurance to provide enough dog bite coverage, individual pet owners are on the hook for a lot of financial reimbursement if their dog injures another person. 

    Home and renter’s insurance: do they cover dog bites?

    There are several great types of insurance policies that dog owners can rely on when they want to obtain enough liability coverage for any bite-related injuries their pet may cause.

    Some people decide to take out secondary policies for additional liability coverage (we'll explore those in another section below). However, many pet owners only rely on the liability coverage offered by their regular homeowners or renters insurance policies. 

    These types of insurance generally provide several kinds of coverage to protect policyholders from liability related to various issues, including dog bites. 

    More specifically, these insurance plans typically feature two types of coverage that can offer protection to dog owners — medical payment coverage and personal liability coverage.

    Medical payment coverage can pay for the medical expenses for injuries that occur on your property (even if you’re renting). For example, it may cover the medical costs of your dog biting someone who visits your home.

    Personal liability coverage can cover the financial costs of injuries that you’re legally responsible for (such as those inflicted by your dog), along with any potential legal costs up to the policy limit. 

    However, it’s important for pet owners to keep in mind that not every policy will cover dog bites, so it’s important to read your policy carefully and discuss it with an insurance agent. 

    Factors that can determine whether your insurance covers dog bites

    We mentioned above that not all homeowners or renters insurance covers dog bite liability. However, it’s also important to note that even when these types of insurance do provide dog bite coverage, specific insurance agencies often include notable exceptions for policy coverage.

    For example, many insurance agencies across the United States refuse to provide dog owners with liability coverage if the state classifies the owner's dog as a "potentially dangerous breed." Despite the clear evidence that a dog’s breed doesn’t predict their behavior. 

    State dog bite statistics infographic.
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    The classification of what is or isn't a "dangerous breed" relies on harmful and largely untrue stereotypes that paint specific breeds as inherently more aggressive or harmful than other types of dogs.

    Common dog breeds that are often excluded from liability coverage because of this designation include:

    • Pit bulls 
    • Rottweilers
    • German shepherds
    • Siberian huskies
    • Alaskan malamutes
    • Great Danes
    • Mastiffs
    • Doberman pinschers
    • Chow chows 
    • Akitas

    In some cases, an insurance agency may provide coverage for a dog belonging to an otherwise restricted breed if:

    Alongside specific breed restrictions, many insurance agencies also have strict no-coverage policies for any dog with a known bite history. 

    What to do if you’re not covered: umbrella insurance and animal liability insurance 

    Say that you are the owner of a dog belonging to a restricted breed, and you can’t find an insurance agency willing to provide liability coverage in the event of a dog bite through your regular homeowners or renters insurance.

    Or, say that you’re someone who can get liability coverage through their insurance, but the policy cap is far too low to cover the costs you’ll face if a dog bite occurs.

    What are you supposed to do?

    Whether you can't get any liability coverage or the coverage you can get is insufficient, there are two options you can leverage to help expand your financial protections in the event of a dog bite:

    Umbrella insurance and animal liability insurance.

    By purchasing either or both of these extra insurance policies, you can better protect yourself against significant financial losses from medical bills and legal costs resulting from dog bite claims.

    Umbrella insurance

    If you’re unable to acquire liability coverage for your dog via standard renters or homeowners policy, or if the coverage you get through them isn’t enough, an umbrella policy can be an excellent source of extra financial protection.

    Umbrella insurance coverage list.
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    Umbrella insurance is a secondary (or extra) type of insurance offering policyholders additional protections beyond (or in place of) the coverage of their other policies. 

    In short, it can protect you from any liability exceeding the limited coverage your renter’s insurance is willing to pay and from claims that your other insurance may not cover at all.

    However, it's important to note that some umbrella insurance providers may not offer coverage for pet liability under their policies. Also, like renters or homeowners insurance providers, they may exclude specific dog breeds from coverage.

    Before acquiring an umbrella policy to cover potential dog bites, you should carefully review any policy you consider and ask an insurance agent whether coverage includes dog bites. 

    Animal liability insurance

    Animal liability insurance is a type of third-party coverage dog owners can purchase to financially protect themselves in the event that their dog (or other pets) injures someone.

    In the case of dog bites, animal liability insurance compensates the bite victim's medical expenses. It may also compensate the dog's owner if the bite victim decides to sue them for additional damages.

    However, this type of insurance does far more than provide financial coverage for dog bite injuries and potential court cases.

    Pet liability insurance also compensates people whose personal property is damaged by the covered dog. 

    For example, say that your dog chews up the patio furniture belonging to another renter in your apartment building. Animal liability coverage would cover the cost of fixing or replacing the furniture.  

    How much bite insurance do I need for my dog?

    All types of insurance policies feature set liability limits that they won’t exceed when it comes to coverage for injuries and damage, whether a dog bite is involved or not.

    As noted previously, the average cost of a dog bite claim is about $49,000 as of 2021, which accounts for medical costs and court judgments. However, trends indicate that this average is likely to rise in future years, as it has for over a decade.

    Dog bite legal claim cost.
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    Thankfully, this is far less than the average liability coverage offered by most renters insurance ($100,000) and homeowners insurance ($100,000-$500,000) policies.

    That said, many people have insurance policies with far less liability coverage than average. Additionally, there are many cases where the cost of a dog bite claim is significantly higher than average.

    You'll want to think carefully about whether your current coverage is high enough to protect you financially if your dog bites someone, especially if they are a larger breed and can cause more damage.

    State and local legislation for dog bites

    Around 36 states have strict liability laws which hold dog owners liable for any injuries their pet may cause — though there are some exceptions if the dog is provoked or acts in self-defense.

    In some states, liability isn’t automatically assigned to the pet owner, but attacks from pets often classify as misdemeanors (and felonies in extreme cases). In states like Oklahoma, the owner is responsible for all damages, except trespassing or provocation.

    In states like Ohio, pet owners of dogs classified as “vicious” are required to purchase at least $100,000 of liability insurance. However, because insurance agencies can refuse to cover dogs with that classification, it can be difficult for dog owners to find coverage, even from third parties. 

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    Aside from these overarching laws related to dog bite liability insurance in various states, there are also specific owner liability laws that people should know about no matter which state they live in.

    Owner liability laws

    Three primary laws impose financial liability onto dog owners in the event their dog injures another person. These include:

    1. Negligence laws 

    Under negligence laws, dog owners are liable if their dog causes an injury because the owner was negligent or unnecessarily careless in controlling the dog.

    1. The one-bite rule

    In several states, a dog owner isn’t immediately liable for the first bite their dog inflicts on someone. Instead, the first bite will indicate the dog has demonstrated “vicious behavior.” After this designation, the dog owner in question will be liable for any more injuries their dog causes.

    1. A dog-bite statute

    Under a dog-bite statute, dog owners are automatically responsible for any property damage or injury their dog causes.

    Possible criminal penalties

    Alongside ownership liability laws, dog owners should know about the potential criminal consequences they may face if their dog bites someone, especially if the bite causes a serious injury.

    If a major injury occurs due to a dog bite, the dog's owner may face charges for several crimes, including:

    • Assault
    • Homicide
    • Manslaughter
    • Child endangerment 

    Depending on the severity of the dog bite injuries and individual state laws, dog owners may face severe legal repercussions on top of financial penalties. For example, a dog owner in Colorado may face up to 120 days in jail if their dog causes even a non-serious bite injury.

    Dog bite insurance FAQ: What else dog owners need to know 

    At this point, you should have a solid understanding of dog bite liability for owners and the overall importance of liability coverage for potential dog bite injuries. You should also have a grasp on some of the overall laws and possible criminal penalties related to dog bites.

    Now that you have that essential information under your belt, we can take a step back and explore some other common questions dog owners often have about the topic.

    Dog bite facts infographic.
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    Below, we’ll address a few additional points of information dog owners should keep in mind about dog bite liability and pet liability coverage.

    How can I avoid needing to rely on my bite insurance?

    The best way to avoid having to rely on your liability insurance for dog bites is to help ensure your dog doesn’t bite someone.

    While this might not always be possible- especially if they’re acting in self-defense or because of provocation- you can generally prevent unnecessary dog bites by training your dog. You can also try actively discouraging behaviors that may promote accidental bite injuries, including:

    • Mouthing
    • Nipping
    • Play biting

    Even if these behaviors are normal for dogs and aren’t inherently aggressive, they make your dog more prone to using their mouths during play and interactions with people, which can easily lead to an accidental bite.

    By working with your dog to improve their bite inhibition, you can greatly reduce their risk of injuring someone while also teaching them to be more gentle overall. 

    Do homeowners or renters insurance cover dog bites if they occur off-property?

    Generally, a renters or homeowners insurance policy will provide coverage for dog bite injuries whether they occur on or off your property. However, this isn’t always the case for every policy or insurance company.

    Just like it’s important to review your policy to check for breed coverage restrictions, you’ll also want to check for coverage limitations on dog bites that occur off your premises. 

    You should also talk with your insurance agent directly to learn more about any other kinds of liability coverage limitations that your policy may include. If there are too many limitations, it may be time to consider a new insurance agency.

    Can landlords be held responsible for dog bites?

    This is not a simple question to answer.  Different states have different laws that can impact landlord liability. Additionally, there are some specific circumstances in which a court may consider the landlord liable for damages caused by a dog bite. For example, a landlord may be liable if they:

    • Were harboring the dog in a state with specific dog bite statutes related to both owners and landlords.
    • Were harboring the dog and knew (or should have reasonably known) that the dog was dangerous.
    • Knew or should have reasonably known that the dog was dangerous and that it lived or was harbored on the property. 
    • Did something unlawful or negligent, which caused the dog bite to occur. 

    It is critical to make sure that your renting policies include the right checkpoints, ask the right questions, and capture the right data and attestations from your renters to control this liability.  A software product like PetScreening that is designed specifically to help control this liability is essential to have implemented.

    How PetScreening can help pet owners and property managers 

    Being a responsible pet owner means taking steps to ensure you're not only protecting your pets but protecting yourself from any potential issues your pet might cause.

    Signing up for pet liability insurance – or at least making sure your renters or homeowners insurance offers enough liability coverage for your dog – is an essential part of pet ownership that everyone should take seriously.

    That said, there’s a lot more that goes into taking care of your pets than just managing your liability. Luckily, PetScreening is here to help make things easier!

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    Create an account with us today to start building your personalized pet profile. You can also explore our wide selection of other great pet resources offered in our Bark Library blog!

    For property managers and owners looking to implement reasonable solutions, that allow you to be more pet inclusive, while controlling this liability and increasing pet revenue, should reach out to ask about a demo of the PetScreening Software and it’s all in one free solution.