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Dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners liability payouts in 2014.

Byline: Insurance Information Institute

Editor's note: This information first appeared on iii.org and is reprinted here with their permission. See Dog Bites Accounted For More Than One-Third Of All Homeowners Liability Payouts Last Year As Cost Per Claim Soars and Dog Bite Liability for the original posts.

Dog bites (and other dog-related injuries) accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2014, costing in excess of $530 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) and State Farm, the largest writer of homeowners insurance in the United States.

[Related: Top 10 States for Dog Bite Claims in 2013]

An analysis of homeowners insurance data by the I.I.I. found that while the number of dog bite claims nationwide decreased 4.7% in 2014, the average cost per claim for the year was up 15%. The average cost paid out for dog bite claims nationwide was $32,072 in 2014, compared with $27,862 in 2013.

"The average cost per claim nationally has risen more than 67% from 2003 to 2014, due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which are still on the upswing," said Loretta Worters, vice president with the I.I.I.

California has largest number of claims, New York has highest cost per claim

The study noted that California continued to have the largest number of claims in the U.S. at 1,867. Ohio had the second highest number of claims at 1,009. While New York had only the third highest number of claims at 965, it registered the highest average cost per claim in the country: a startling $56,628. The trend in higher costs per claim is attributable not simply to dog bites but also to dogs knocking down children, cyclists, the elderly, etc., all of which can result in fractures and other blunt force trauma injuries that impact the potential severity of the losses.

Keep reading to learn more about dog bite liability.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Dog bite liability

State and Local Legislation: Dog owners are liable for injuries their pets cause if the owner knew the dog had a tendency to bite. In some states, statutes make the owners liable whether or not they knew the dog had a tendency to bite; in others, owners can be held responsible only if they knew or should have known their dogs had a propensity to bite. Some states and municipalities have "breed specific" statutes that identify breeds such as pit bulls as dangerous; in others individual dogs can be designated as vicious.

At least two states, Pennsylvania and Michigan, have laws that prohibit insurers from canceling or denying coverage to the owners of particular dog breeds. In Ohio, for example, owners of dogs that have been classified as vicious are required to purchase at least $100,000 of liability insurance.

The American Kennel Club reports that while many municipalities have enacted bans on specific breeds, several states have laws barring municipalities and counties from targeting individual breeds.

Dog Owners' Liability: There are three kinds of law that impose liability on owners:

1) A dog-bite statute: where the dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes without provocation.

2) The one-bite rule: where the dog owner is responsible for an injury caused by a dog if the owner knew the dog was likely to cause that type of injury--in this case, the victim must prove the owner knew the dog was dangerous.

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

Criminal penalties: On January 26, 2001, two Presa Canario dogs attacked and killed Diane Whipple in the doorway of her San Francisco, California, apartment. Marjorie Knoller, the owner of the dogs, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for keeping a mischievous dog that killed a person. She was sentenced to four years in prison for involuntary manslaughter and was ordered to pay $6,800 in restitution. Her husband, Robert Noel, was convicted on lesser charges but also received a four-year prison sentence. Knoller became the first Californian convicted of murder for a dog's actions. This was only the third time such charges have been upheld in the United States, the first coming in Kansas in 1997.

Insurers are limiting their exposure: Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability legal expenses, up to the liability limits (typically $100,000 to $300,000). If the claim exceeds the limit, the dog owner is responsible for all damages above that amount. Some insurers do not ask the breed of a dog owned when writing or renewing homeowners insurance and do not track the breed of dogs involved in dog bite incidents. However, once a dog has bitten someone, it poses an increased risk. In that instance, the insurance company may charge a higher premium, nonrenew the homeowner's insurance policy or exclude the dog from coverage.

Some insurers are taking steps to limit their exposure to such losses. Some companies require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, while others charge more for owners of breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers and others are not offering insurance to dog owners at all. Some will cover a pet if the owner takes the dog to classes aimed at modifying its behavior or if the dog is restrained with a muzzle, chain or cage.

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Be a responsible dog owner

Even normally docile dogs may bite when they are frightened or when defending their puppies, owners or food. However, the best way to protect yourself is to prevent your dog from biting anyone in the first place. The most dangerous dogs are those that fall victim to human shortcomings such as poor training, irresponsible ownership and breeding practices that foster viciousness.

"All dogs have the potential to bite, but for most, biting is a last resort," said Victoria Stilwell, star of Animal Planet's hit TV series It's Me or the Dog. "If time is taken to raise, teach and socialize a dog correctly, the likelihood of a bite incident occurring is extremely low," explained Stilwell, a passionate advocate for positive reinforcement training methods. "Confident dogs have less need to use aggressive behavior."

National Dog Bite Prevention Week(May 17-23, 2015), is an annual event designed to provide consumers with information on how to be responsible pet owners while increasing awareness of a serious public health issue.

Taking the following steps can reduce the chances of your dog biting someone:

* Consult with a professional (e.g., veterinarian, animal behaviorist or responsible breeder) to learn about suitable breeds of dogs for your household and neighborhood.

* Spend time with a dog before buying or adopting it. Use caution when bringing a dog into a home with an infant or toddler. A dog with a history of aggression is inappropriate in a household with children.

* Be sensitive to cues that a child is fearful of or apprehensive about a dog and, if so, delay acquiring a dog. Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog.

* Socialize your dog so it knows how to act with other animals and people.

* Discourage children from disturbing a dog that is eating or sleeping.

* Be cautious when exposing your dog to new situations in which you are unsure of its response.

* Never approach a strange dog and always avoid eye contact with a dog that appears threatening.

* Immediately seek professional advice from veterinarians, animal behaviorists or responsible breeders if your dog develops aggressive or undesirable behaviors.
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Publication:Property and Casualty 360
Article Type:Reprint
Date:May 18, 2015
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