Published August 25, 2020|5 min read
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Dogs are one of the most common pets to own, there are millions of beloved pet dogs in the U.S. — but pet ownership always comes with risks. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs per year in the U.S., and over half of those injuries occur at home to someone with whom the dog was familiar.
In most cases, homeowners insurance will cover a dog bite. Specifically, the personal liability coverage and medical payments coverage components of your policy would reimburse you for any legal or medical expenses if your dog bites and injures someone, and if they decide to sue.
Homeowners insurance won’t always cover dog bites, though. Certain breeds are categorized as “dangerous” and are either difficult to insure or excluded from coverage altogether, and you also may be denied coverage if your dog has a history of aggressive behavior.
Homeowners insurance typically covers dog bites up to the limits spelled out in the dog owner’s policy
Certain dog breeds, like pit bulls, rottweilers, and chow chows, may be categorized as “dangerous” and excluded from coverage altogether
If a dog bite claim exceeds the personal liability or medical payments coverage limits in your policy, you as the dog owner will be responsible for the remaining expenses
Dog bites both on and off the premises of your home are typically covered by homeowners insurance. A homeowners insurance policy is made up of multiple types of coverage that cover much more than just the structure of your home.
The personal liability component of your homeowners insurance covers damage and injury you’re responsible for, so if your sweet puppy takes a bite out of someone, your liability coverage could cover their medical expenses or any legal fees. Your homeowners insurance also includes medical payments coverage which covers related fees if you’re responsible for someone’s injuries.
Personal liability coverage protects you from expensive litigation and medical bills when you’re held accountable for causing bodily injury or damage to someone else’s property. When a guest is injured on your property, liability coverage can cover the expenses you’ll incur if that guest files a claim or a lawsuit for the injury. Liability coverage also covers your liability outside of your home, like if your teenage child vandalizes their high school and causes expensive damage.
Liability coverage also extends to your dog when it bites someone else or causes other forms of physical harm and property damage. Say your dog is running without a leash in your front yard and a child comes over to pet it. If the dog bites the child and the child’s parents decide to sue, liability coverage can cover the costs of damage or injury-related expenses up to your coverage limits.
Most insurance companies start liability limits at $100,000 which is typical for a standard policy, but you can add coverage in increments of $100,000 up to $500,000. For even more personal liability coverage, you might want to consider an umbrella policy which is supplemental liability protection that can be purchased separately.
Medical payments coverage is a form of liability coverage that can reimburse you for medical expenses related to a guest’s injuries if they’re hurt in your home or if you’re responsible for their injury. In some ways, medical payments coverage overlaps with personal liability coverage, but it has much lower coverage limits, usually $1,000 to $5,000, and is typically used to cover more minor injuries.
Basically, it might be all you need if your dog bites someone and they need to go to the doctor to get the bite checked out. But if your dog were to cause severe injuries or property damage, or the victim sued you, that's when your personal liability insurance would kick in.
This protection extends to employees who work for the home even if they live there, like a gardener or private chef, but permanent residents of the home are usually not covered.
Whether or not you’ll be covered if your dog bites someone largely depends on your insurance company. Dog bite coverage varies across insurance companies, but in general, some may refuse to offer coverage depending on your dog’s history and breed. When you apply for home insurance and get quotes from insurers, you’ll be asked questions about your household, including about the breed and history of any pet dogs.
Once your dog has bitten someone, it’s deemed high-risk which could lead to an increased homeowners insurance premium when it’s time to renew your policy or might exclude your dog from coverage. In the worst case scenario, your homeowner’s insurance policy could be rejected for renewal altogether.
Certain breeds may also be excluded from some homeowners insurance policies if companies consider them higher-risk, specifically pit bulls, Rottweilers, German shepherds, and chow chows, but the exact breeds vary by insurer. If you’re looking to adopt a dog, check to see if your provider will cover the breed you’re interested in. Also, look out for caveats in your policy; some insurance companies might still include your dog in coverage if it’s completed a certain amount of training.
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Homeowners insurance generally covers dog bites on and off-property. However, you should check your policy to make sure it doesn't specifically limit your coverage to dog bites that happen on your premises.
Yes, your homeowners insurance can cover the cost if your dog bites another dog and the other animal needs to go to the vet, or the other owner decides to sue you. Check with your insurer to be sure they’ll cover vet bills and related costs if your dog injures another dog.
If your dog is excluded from coverage because of any reason, or if your homeowners policy doesn’t cover dog bites at all, you can look into separate pet liability insurance which covers dogs of all breeds if they bite another person or animal. Your homeowners insurance company may offer it as an endorsement or a standalone pet liability policy, but you may also be able to buy a pet policy from a specialized liability insurer if they do not.
There are several steps you can take to get ahead of a potentially dangerous dog bite situation. Remember, if you’re struggling with your dog’s behavioral issues, it’s always a good idea to consult a professional trainer:
Socialize your dog early and often - Introducing your dog to other dogs, humans and new situations early on can ease their hostility as they get older
Spay or neuter your pup - A sterilized dog is less likely to bite than an unsterilized dog, so spaying or neutering them can lower the chances of aggressive behavior
Visit the vet regularly - Make sure your dog is vaccinated and up-to-date on all shots; a sick dog may react more erratically than a healthy one
Hire a professional - A professional dog trainer will know how to handle your dog and can teach you tips and tricks that work for your particular pup
Walk your dog - Just like exercise and fresh air promote healthy minds and bodies for humans, they also promote healthy behaviors for your dog
Keep your dog on a leash - Always keep your dog on a leash on walks or out in public
Don’t leave your dog unattended - You can get in all kinds of trouble if your dog bites someone and you weren’t there to witness it, so make sure your dog is attended in open yards and public areas
Know your dog - You know your dog best, including what stresses them out and what calms them down, so keep them away from their stressors and any potentially threatening environments
Stay alert - Always be ready to act, especially when others are around or your dog starts displaying aggressive behavior
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