Does My Homeowners Insurance Cover Dog Bite Liability?
Almost 63 million households own dogs according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2019-2020 Pet Owners Survey. That’s a lot of Fidos. It is estimated that millions of people are bitten by dogs every year. Some severe and can even lead to death and some are minor nibbles, but the most common victim of dog bites are children.
So, what if man’s best friend has a bad day and bites someone? What does that mean for the owner? Are they liable and to what end? Are dog bites covered by homeowners insurance? What about renters insurance?
What are the Liabilities in a Dog Bite Lawsuit?
In Nevada we have a “one bite rule” which means dog owners are not automatically liable if their dog bites someone but has never bitten before. However, once a dog has bitten someone once, the dog is considered either “dangerous” or “vicious” and falls under a different classification for liability. There are three kinds of laws that impose liability on dog owners:
- A dog-bite statute: this is when the dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes without provocation.
- The one-bite rule: the dog owner is responsible for any injury caused by a dog if the owner knew the dog had bitten before. In these cases, the victim must prove the owner knew the dog was dangerous (breed, past behavior, training, etc.).
- Negligence laws: the dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless or negligent in controlling the dog.
Homeowners Insurance and Dog Bites
Homeowners insurance covers your home and personal property in the event they’re damaged or destroyed. A basic homeowners insurance policy includes six coverage provisions:
- The structure of your home
- Your personal property
- Additional living expenses
- Legal and medical expense
- Personal liability
- Medical payments
Those last two, personal liability and medical payments, are designed to give the homeowner coverage if someone is injured in their home and sues or needs medical care. This includes dog bites. Homeowners 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 the liability limit in their policy.
Having a good insurance policy is crucial if you have a dog. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the average cost per dog bite claim increased by 12.3 percent in 2020 to $50,425 from $44,760 in 2019. The average cost per claim nationally has risen 162 percent from 2003 to 2020 due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements. When we represent a dog bite case at Matt Dion & Associates, our goal is to get the victim the max compensation for their injuries, pain and suffering.
The breed of dog can impact your ability to get coverage on your homeowners insurance policy. Some insurance companies will not insure certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls. Others decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether an individual dog had been deemed vicious, regardless of its breed. This could be a past record of aggressive behavior or other claims for biting. Some insurers do not ask the breed of a dog when writing or renewing homeowners insurance policies and do not track the breed of dogs involved in dog bite incidents. However, once a dog has bitten someone, the insurance company may charge a higher premium, exclude the dog from coverage, or not renew the policy at all.
Your insurance company may ask you to sign a liability waiver for dog bites, while others may allow you to keep your dog on the policy, but pay a premium if it is a “high risk” breed like a German Shephard or Rottweiler. Some insurances will reduce premiums if the dog owner can show decreased risk of a dog biting through the use of a muzzle or proof of obedience training or classes.
Does Renters Insurance Cover Dog Bites?
Especially with the rise in the Reno housing market, there are more people renting than ever in our area. Just because you are renting does not mean you should not have insurance. Much like homeowners insurance, most renters insurance policies cover dog bites but depending on your insurance company, they may not cover some breeds, so it is important to know your coverage before you find yourself needing it.
Filing an Insurance Claim for a Dog Bite
As soon as someone is bitten and harmed, the policyholder should notify their renters or homeowners insurance company. Compensation will be determined by the injured person’s medical bills or damage claims. If you are the victim of a dog bite, an experienced personal injury lawyer can help you navigate the insurance company and make sure you are fully compensated for your medical bills and recovery.