If you have a dog, you’ve probably wondered at one time or another whether your insurance will cover damage in case your dog bites someone. After all, dogs are animals and it is impossible to predict or control their actions at all times, even when they have received the best training. More than 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in the United States. Dog bite insurance settlements account for more than a third of homeowners insurance claims.
Understanding your homeowners insurance liability coverage can give you peace of mind in the event that if your dog bites or injures someone, you will be protected.
Does my Homeowners Insurance Cover Dog Bites?
Usually, dog bite injuries are covered by home insurance. Your liability or medical coverage will determine the amount of your dog bite insurance.
Liability coverage protects you when you are held legally responsible for someone else’s injury or property damage. This coverage also extends to your dog whether you are at home or on the go. So if your dog bites someone, your liability coverage will cover their medical bills or legal fees, no matter where you are in the world at the time of the incident. Most insurance companies offer between $100,000 and $500,000 in liability coverage.
Your policy’s medical coverage likely further covers minor medical expenses for your guests, regardless of who is responsible. You can usually get between $1,000 and $5,000 in medical expense coverage.
In some situations, your insurer won’t pay for dog bite injuries. If you throw your dog at someone or encourage them to bite someone, then naturally you will not be covered. If a dog bites someone in a professional setting then your homeowners insurance policy won’t cover the damages, although commercial insurance may cover them. Dog bites may also be not covered if your dog has a history of bites.
Even good dogs have bad days. If your dog bites or injures another dog, your homeowners insurance policy can help cover vet costs and legal fees if you’re sued by the other dog’s owner.
Depending on where you live, there are three basic ways to determine responsibility for a dog bite. Liability will either lie with the owner of the dog or whoever was caring for the dog at the time, or both.
Liability coverage and medical expense coverage do not protect you or the residents of your home from injury.
Check with your insurance agent to make sure your policy provides the right type of coverage and what your limits on that coverage are.
If your dog is excluded from coverage for some reason or if your homeowners insurance policy does not cover dog bites at all, then a viable option is for you to purchase pet liability insurance. This covers dogs of all breeds if they bite another person or animal. Your home insurance company may offer it as an endorsement or standalone pet liability policy, but you may also be able to purchase a pet policy from a pet liability insurer.
While some insurers will cover your home and any dog bites, no matter what type of dog you have, other insurers won’t. Indeed, some insurers won’t cover dog bites if your dog is classified as a “high-risk” breed.
Your property insurer may have a restricted list of dog breeds. Dog breeds that are often excluded from home insurance companies include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Chow Chow
- Doberman Pinscher
- German Shepherd
- Great Dane
- Presa Canario
- Siberian Husky
- Staffordshire Terrier
Mixes of any restricted breed mentioned above are also generally excluded with most insurers. If your dog falls on a restricted list of dog breeds, even if the dog was purchased after acquiring a home insurance policy, a bite will likely not be covered.
If your insurer doesn’t cover your dog because of its breed, you may want additional liability insurance. An umbrella policy can give you the coverage you need. With umbrella insurance, you can expand your liability coverage in $1 million increments, typically up to $5 million. You can also transfer your home insurance to a company that won’t exclude you from coverage based on your dog’s breed.
How Much Will Homeowners Insurance Pay for Dog Bites?
Most homeowner’s and renter’s insurance policies protect against dog bites up to the liability coverage limit, which is usually $100,000 to $500,000. If the claim totals more than that, then the dog owner is liable for the balance.
Getting Homeowners Insurance After a Dog Bite
In some cases, damage caused by your dog will be excluded from your coverage. In other cases, insurance companies may cancel your coverage after your dog bites someone. This is sometimes referred to as the “one bite rule”.
However, a dog bite does not mean that you are completely uninsurable. Some insurance companies will be happy to provide coverage for people after their dog has bitten someone, but you should expect your rates to reflect this increased risk. If you have a dog that has bitten someone in the past, you can contact an insurance adjuster to help you find insurance that will cover your dog.
Tips to Prevent Dog Bites
There are several steps you can take to anticipate a potentially dangerous dog bite situation and avoid it. Here are some tips to get started:
- Hire a professional. A professional dog trainer will know how to handle your dog and can give you advice that is right for your particular pup.
- Visit the vet regularly. Make sure your dog is vaccinated and up to date on all vaccines, as a sick dog may react more erratically than a healthy dog.
- Socialize your dog early and often. Introducing your dog to other dogs, humans, and new situations early on can lessen his hostility as he gets older.
- Keep your dog on a leash. Always keep your dog on a leash when out walking or in public.
- Do not leave your dog unsupervised. You can have all kinds of problems if your dog bites someone and you weren’t there to witness it, so make sure your dog is cared for in open yards and public areas.
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