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Fall 2017  Volume 13, Number 3        


Protecting Your Family from Dog Bite Liability

The Insurance Information Institute (III) reported that dog bite claims cost an average of $33,230 in 2016, an increase of 36% since 2008. If you own one or more dogs, do you have the insurance coverage to protect you from dog bite liability?

A dog may be man’s best friend, but dog bites account for one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims. According to the III, dog bite claims paid out in 2016 cost more than $600 million, a 55 percent increase since 2008.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that dogs bite more than 4.5 million Americans every year. Of these people, about one in five require medical attention. Children 5 to 9 years old, being more vulnerable and closer to the dog’s level, have the highest injury rate. Sometimes the injury requires only an antibiotic and bandage. But in 2006 alone, more than 31,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs.


A dog owner’s liability for bites and attacks varies depending on the laws of the locality in which the attack occurs. Most states hold a dog owner liable for any injury or property damage your dog causes, regardless of whether you were obeying any relevant laws. The only exceptions occur when:

  • The victim was a trespasser
  • The victim was a veterinarian who was treating the dog at the time of the incident
  • The victim was committing a felony
  • The victim provoked the dog
  • The dog was assisting the police or the military at the time of the incident. (Source:

Insurance Coverage

If your dog injures a person who is not a member of your household, the personal liability portion of your homeowners policy will generally pay for any necessary medical treatments, along with property damage (such as replacing torn clothing), and legal costs if you are sued. However, the liability protection only applies to unintentional or accidental injuries; if you intentionally use your dog to inflict harm, the coverage would not apply.

For example, Insurance coverage would not have applied in the case of a San Francisco woman and her husband, who were convicted of involuntary manslaughter after their two Presa Canario dogs fatally attacked a woman in the doorway of her apartment in 2001. The man was sentenced to four years in person, his wife faces 15 years to life.

If your dog bites someone while it’s in your car, as when a child reaches in to pet your dog, then the liability portion of your automobile policy would probably pay.

Some homeowners insurers have begun taking a closer look at certain breeds of dogs, most commonly larger or guard breeds, such as pit bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Chows and Akitas. Some insurers exclude coverage for certain breeds outright; however, some states prohibit exclusions based exclusively on a dog’s breed.

Any insurer will investigate a dog that has a history of biting. Just because your dog has bitten someone in the past doesn’t mean an automatic exclusion. If there were extenuating circumstances (such as someone separating a female dog from her new puppies or someone repeatedly tormenting a dog) and you have taken preventive measures (such as spaying or neutering the dog, or installing a fence), you might still be able to obtain coverage.

Obtaining coverage for a dog with a history of unprovoked attacks will prove more difficult. Most insurers will deny your application for coverage or cancel or refuse to renew an existing policy. If an insurer does issue a homeowners or renters policy, it will probably attach an exclusion for the dog. If this happens, we recommend buying a separate liability policy; an umbrella liability policy might also provide coverage.

Please call us for more information on insuring yourself for dog-related liability.

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In this issue:

This Just In...

Five Practical Tips for Buying the Right Car Insurance at the Right Price

Protecting Your Family from Dog Bite Liability

Do You Know What’s REALLY in Your Homeowners Policy?

What Is a “Bite”?



The information presented and conclusions within are based upon our best judgment and analysis. It is not guaranteed information and does not necessarily reflect all available data. Web addresses are current at time of publication but subject to change. SmartsPro Marketing and The Insurance 411 do not engage in the solicitation, sale or management of securities or investments, nor does it make any recommendations on securities or investments. This material may not be quoted or reproduced in any form without publisher’s permission. All rights reserved. ©2015 The Insurance 411. Tel. 877-762-7877.