A dog can truly be a person’s best friend.
But our best friend bites once in a while. We all know this. How often does this happen? According to the Centers for Disease Control, there are 4.5 million dog bites in America each year. Almost one million of these bites require medical attention. We all think (and hope) that our dog won’t bite someone. But even the happiest, safest and best-trained dogs can get startled or make a mistake.
Dog bites are expensive.
Dog bites cost over one billion dollars a year in the United States, with over 500 million dollars paid out in claims each year by insurance companies.
The average cost of a dog bite claim is going up each year, according to the Insurance Information Institute. In California last year it was $33,649. And that’s just the average amount paid out. It’s not uncommon for claims to be much higher- often into six figures.
One of the contributing factors to increased costs is the rising price of plastic surgery. Most dog bites occur on the face. The surgical procedures to repair the damage keep getting better- and more expensive.
Larger jury awards also contribute to the increased cost of claims. Half of all dog bite victims are children, and juries are sympathetic. Huge awards are common.
Doesn’t insurance cover dog bites?
Yes, it does- most of the time.
A typical homeowners or renters policy in California will provide at least $100,000 in Personal Liability Coverage. Many agents now recommend carrying at least $300,000 of liability coverage. Dog bites are typically covered under this provision. Most policies also have a coverage called “Medical Payments” for smaller claims- usually a few thousand dollars or less. It’s a way to settle very small injury claims quickly. Finally, there’s Umbrella Coverage to protect larger amounts of assets.
So, is that enough?
That depends. Attorneys for dog bite victims will often go after all they can get. Your policy limits won’t always be enough to satisfy a sympathetic jury. If you have more assets than your insurance covers- you could be paying out of pocket when your coverage runs out. Your savings, and in some cases even your home, are at risk.
What should you do?
First, if you own a dog, feed them an extra treat, just because they’re special. (Your dog did not pay me to say that.)
Then call your agent and make sure you discuss your liability limits. They can make sure that your liability limits are right for you, and that you understand what’s covered. Homeowners and renters alike really can have the peace of mind they deserve.
Bruce Sackrison is an insurance property and casualty broker affiliated with Professional Insurance Associates helping clients with insurance needs for personal, commercial and business insurance. Bruce can be reached at 707-931-0186, firstname.lastname@example.org