Put a muzzle on your mutt, or your insurance premium might go up.
Dog bites accounted for more than one-third of homeowners insurance liability claims paid in 2011, costing nearly $479 million in the U.S., according to the Insurance Information Institute. Property casualty insurers pay out far more in claims for property damage to homes. But when it comes to liability, the cost of dog bite claims has risen 48% since 2003, even though the number of dog bites has remained roughly flat, the organization said.
State Farm, the largest writer of homeowners insurance in the U.S., paid more than $109 million on nearly 3,800 dog bite claims in 2011. The Insurance Information Institute's analysis of homeowners insurance data found that the average cost of dog bite claims in the U.S. was $29,396 in 2011, up 53.4% from $19,162 in 2004. Medical costs and the sizes of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs have all outpaced inflation, the organization said.
High payouts on dog bites are happening because more people own dogs, they live closer to one another, and parents are more likely to get advanced medical care for their children after a bite, said Bob Skow, CEO of the Independent Insurance Agents of Iowa. "Forty years ago, a kid got bit, Mom and Dad didn't take him to a plastic surgeon," he said. "Nowadays they do."
Most often, kids are the bite victims. Skow said people should own dogs appropriate for where they live and train them properly, and parents should teach children how to avoid provoking dogs. There are 78.2 million dogs in the U.S., according to the American Pet Products Association, one dog for every four people. "Statistically, the numbers have gone up at the same time that we've become more of an urban society," Skow said.
Laws in 18 states let dog owners off on liability for the dog's first bite, but in others, including Arizona, an owner is liable for all damages caused by his dog, unless the person injured was intentionally provoking the dog or trespassing.
In Arizona, there is no “one free bite” rule. Rather, it is a rule of “strict liability”. Your dog bites another, and you are at fault and liable for the injuries and damages that result. However, to make a “strict liability” claim, the time frame is shortened. The statute of limitations in Arizona is one (1) year, and not the usual two (2) year time frame.
Homeowners insurance generally will pay these claims, but some carrier are now excluding “animal liability” claims from their policies. This leaves the dog owners exposed to personal liability.
Do you own a dog? Do you know whether your policy excludes insurance protection if your dog injures another? Might be a good idea to find out, before it happens.