If you have a dog and a homeowner's or tenant's liability policy, don't assume you're covered if Fido sinks his teeth into someone. Ask your insurance agent specifically what sort of dog bite coverage is included in your policy. Even if Fifi would never hurt a fly, you need protection.
Since approximately one-third of homeowner liability insurance claims involve dog bites, some insurance companies are no longer providing such coverage or are charging high premiums. Other companies might cover dog bite claims only through an umbrella policy, not a basic homeowner's policy. State law comes into play in some cases. Some states have a "one bite" rule, in which there's no liability if the dog has never bitten before. The majority of states don't have such legislation.
What To Do
Farmer's Insurance advises that, if your dog does bite someone, you make sure the injured party receives medical attention. Exchange contact information with the bitten person. Inform the individual that he should save all medical receipts and that someone from your insurance company will contact him. Call your insurance agent and give her the details regarding the incident, along with the bite victim's contact info. Be sure to report the bite to your local animal control officer.
Insurance companies want to limit their risk, so some companies might not cover a specific breed of dog with high bite statistics. Much depends on the insurance laws in your particular state. Such breed-specific exclusions might include pit bulls, Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers, Akitas and German shepherds. While Chihuahuas might snap, they're less likely to cause serious injury. Even though the Center for Disease Control's 2001 report on nonfatal dog-bite injuries treated in hospitals was not geared to use by insurance companies, that has been the result.
Special Canine Coverage
If your insurance company won't provide liability coverage for dog bites or allows only limited coverage, you might look into special canine policies. One such policy is available through the Federation of Insured Dog Owners (FIDO). If you're looking for canine liability insurance, contact animal organizations and breed clubs to inquire about insurers that provide canine coverage. Even canine-friendly insurance has limits. It might not provide coverage if, for instance, your dog attacks a canine rather than a person or if your dog has a history of biting.
Preventing your dog from biting in the first place can save you a lot of trouble and aggravation. It can also make your dog insurable: Some companies cover dogs that pass obedience school programs. Always supervise interaction between your dog and kids -- many dog bite victims are children. If your children have friends over to play, your dog could interpret ordinary roughhousing by these strangers as threats to your kids. Walk your dog on a leash, rather than letting him run loose. Don't subject him to situations where he might feel threatened, especially if he's ever given any indication of biting in fear.
- Farmers Insurance: Dog Bites
- Insurance Journal: F.I.D.O.’s Dog Bite Liability Insurance Fills Coverage Gap
- USA Today: Dog Bites Drive Up Insurance Payouts; Premiums Could Be Next
- American Kennel Club: Tips to Prevent Dog Bites
- Fox Business: Dogs Take Bite Out of Homeowners Insurance
- Center for Disease Control: Nonfatal Dog Bite-Related Injuries Treated in Hospital Emergency Departments, United States, 2001
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.