If your dog bites, insurers may bite back


Dog ownership is more popular than ever. In fact, almost 90 million dogs are owned by 60.2 million households in the United States.

Unfortunately, about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Over half of those injuries occur at home with dogs that are known well. In 2016, more than one-third of all home insurance liability claims were for dog bites and dog-related injuries, which came at a cost of more than $600 million. Costs per claim are also rising due to increased medical and settlement costs—the average cost per claim increased a whopping 73.4% between 2003 and 2016.

Enjoy your dog! But be aware of your potential liability involved in owning one, as well as the impact it may have on your insurability.

Liability and the law

In Wisconsin, the dog owner is liable for the full amount of damages “caused by the dog injuring or causing injury to a person, domestic animal, or property.” Further, if an owner knew their dog had previously bitten a person without provocation and broke the skin, the owner must pay double damages. Other fines and legal penalties may also apply.

If your dog bites someone:

  • File a police report immediately. It demonstrates a sincere effort on your part to do the right thing. It also provides an objective, third-party account of the incident that could protect you if a claim is filed.
  • Suggest immediate medical attention to prevent the bite from getting worse.
  • Exchange contact information as a sign of cooperation. Any hint that you attempted to conceal your identity may be interpreted as culpability.
  • Provide proof of vaccination. It could mean the difference between your dog being released to your custody or taken away for testing. It can also immediately discount certain concerns regarding communicable diseases.
  • Contact your insurance company. If you are insured with Member Benefits, call us right away. If a claim is filed, we will be in a better position to settle the claim before it possibly escalates, and the odds increase for a better outcome.

How it can affect your insurance

Generally, home insurance policies do not exclude “canine exposure” from coverage; however, each insurer may handle the risk differently. Insurers may charge a higher premium, deny coverage for breeds construed as dangerous, or require the owners to a sign liability waiver for dog bites.

Claims arising from a dog incident will typically be paid up to the liability limits stated in the policy. If the claim exceeds this amount, the dog owner’s umbrella policy (if applicable) will kick in. However, insureds run the risk of nonrenewal following a dog bite incident.

If you have questions, we’re happy to talk with you. Call 1-800-279-4010.

Help prevent dog bites

A dog bite can be traumatic to both the victim and the dog. While there is no guarantee your dog will never bite, you can take steps to reduce the risk, according to the Humane Society:

  • Spay or neuter your dog.
  • Train your dog.
  • Socialize your dog.
  • Teach your dog appropriate behavior.
  • Make your dog a member of your family.
  • License your dog.

Sources: Insurance Information Institute, Centers for Disease Control, Wisconsin State Legislature.

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