How to protect yourself from a dog bite claim

By Higginbotham on February 06 , 2019

GettyImages-Petting Dog
According to the Insurance Information Institute, over $400 million is paid out for dog bite claims each year by insurance companies. While that may seem like a lot, there is an estimated $600 million that is in excess of the home insurance policy limits. Protecting yourself with sufficient limits, as well as considering an umbrella insurance policy, could help you avoid out-of-pocket expenses should your pooch bite someone.

Owning a dog is usually a joyous union. But, dogs can become aggravated or agitated by small children pulling their hair, tail or stepping on them. It’s important to watch your pet, and never leave a dog alone around small children. Your dog may be provoked, but it’s still your responsibility to ensure your pet doesn’t bite someone. While most claims are from small bites and only require first aid, the lasting damage can still be severe, like nerve damage in hands or feet.

The Insurance Information Institute states that there are three kinds of laws regarding pet liability:

  1. Dog-bite statute: The dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes, even without provocation.

  2. “One-bite” rule: In some states, the owner is not held liable for the first bite the dog inflicts. Once an animal has demonstrated vicious behavior, such as biting or otherwise displaying a “vicious propensity,” the owner can be held liable. Some states have moved away from the one-bite rule and hold owners responsible for any injury, regardless of whether the animal has previously bitten someone.

  3. Negligence laws: The dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because he or she was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.

While it’s important to understand your state laws regarding dog bite liability, the best course is prevention.

The ASPCA lists several ways to avoid being bitten by a dog. Because dogs can’t tell you what they’re thinking, it’s important to watch a dog’s body language. Some signs a dog may be uncomfortable include:

  • Stiff tail
  • Pulled back ears
  • Intense stare
  • Backing away
  • Visible injury
  • Not sharing toys
If people ask to pet your dog, ask them politely to let your dog smell them first to ensure it's comfortable with it. If your dog reacts negatively to someone, it’s okay to tell that person it isn’t a good idea.

You hope that your pup never bites someone, but unfortunately it does happen. Ensuring that your home insurance limits are sufficient and also carrying an excess liability policy called an “umbrella insurance policy” may help protect your pocketbook in the unfortunate event.

Talk to Higginbotham’s personal insurance experts to determine whether an umbrella policy is right for you.

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