05 Oct 2011 Dog Bite Liability Claims and Your Homeowners Insurance Policy

Are you a pet owner? Well according to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) about 62% of American homes have a family pet and 46.3M American homes have a family dog. Do you or someone you know have a family pet? If so, did you know that dog bites account for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims? It’s true according to the Insurance Information Institute. Just to be clear this doesn’t mean that the biting incident has to take place (physically) on your property, homeowners liability coverage can also cover injuries that your animal causes regardless of physical location.

In Massachusetts pet owners are legally liable for any damage caused by their animal, which isn’t true in all states. This is called the dog-bite statute. Each year since 2009, the number of claims and the cost per claim, have increased, following suit with earlier years.

Typically, liability limits on a homeowners insurance policy are between $100,000 and $1,000,000. These limits would protect an insured in the event that a covered loss occurred. The dog’s owner would be responsible for paying anything additional, after the limits of the insurance policy have been exhausted. Claims arising from a bite could pay an injured party for damages including, medical bills, time out of work, and even pain and suffering. In 2010 the average cost per dog bite claim rose from $24,840 in 2009 to $26,166.

Are you leaving yourself exposed for a claim to potentially occur? Hopefully not. Understanding the animal liability laws within your state is a good place to start. It’s up to an animal’s owner to properly train, control, and restrain their pet. If you’re aware that your pet tends to get aggressive at times, be proactive. As the pet’s owner, you have an obligation to protect others. Negligence laws state that an owner is liable if negligent in controlling their animal. Ultimate liability and responsibility is placed on the pet owner unless specific circumstances apply.

Here in Massachusetts the state law is quite clear. Dog owners are liable for any damage caused by their pet. There are exceptions, like if the injured party was tormenting, teasing, or abusing the animal at the time of the attack, but ultimately situations like this will be decided in court. If the injured party is under the age of 7, it’s presumed that no wrong-doing preceded the attack; unless proved otherwise in court.

Make an effort to find out, understand, and obey the animal liability laws in your state; and be a responsible pet owner.

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