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You Can Take the “Bite” Out of Dog Bite Liability Claims

“Happiness is a warm puppy.” – Charles Schulz.
Many generations understand Mr. Schulz’s sentiment exactly. It could be that we still glance at a “Peanuts” cartoon and have fond memories of Snoopy. Maybe we welcome Marmaduke into our lives via the comic strip or movie. No doubt, we love our favorite dog movie(s), but in reality, dog ownership is a position of responsibility and we are almost always liable for our dog’s behavior. This includes any incidences of dog bites. Remember, if you take this rewarding experience seriously, then you can take the “bite” out of dog bite liability claims.

Understanding dog bites by the numbers…

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) began in 1863 and was renamed in 1898. Their mission is clear:

“…to lead the profession by advocating for our members and advancing the science and practice of veterinary medicine to improve animal and human health.”

In keeping with their goal to improve both animal and human health, each spring the AVMA serves as a member of the coalition which sponsors National Dog Bite Prevention Week®.

The Insurance Information Institute (III) has reviewed statistics provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and offered this overview:

• A survey taken in 2017-2018 indicated United States households owned 90 million pet dogs.
• Each year, dogs bite nearly 4.5 million people.
• More than half of injuries resulting from dog bites take place at home and with dogs known by the victim.
• Injuries among children are highest among 5 to 9-year olds
• In 2018, $675 million in dog bites and other dog-related injury liability claims were paid by homeowner insurers.
• In 2018, nationwide there were 17,297 dog bite claims, a 6.6% decrease from the 18,522 claims files in 2017.
• While the number of claims decreased from 2017 to 2018, the average cost per claim in 2018 increased 5.3%.
• In 2017, the average cost per claim was $37,051, while in 2018 the average cost per claim rose to $39,017.

Dog Bite Liability Claims State By State

Often when we are trying to get a grasp on a particular subject, we search for hard numbers. These help us to wrap our heads around a topic like dog bite liability claims. It is not unusual for our search for facts to occur post incident. So, before you find yourself in the middle of a dog bite liability claim, consider the following:

  1. Visit the III’s Dog Bite Liability Claims by State – Interactive Map. If you hover over your state, then you can view the resulting financial impact of dog bites on your state of residence. For example: In 2018, Tennessee ranked 22nd of the 50 states and had 293 dog bite claims, with an average cost per claim of $32,426.31. The total value of these claims was $9.5 million. Complimenting III’s report, MoneyWise recently published The Worst States for Dog Bites. They offer this sound advice: “If you’re a dog owner, be smart. Everyone else. Be safe!”
  2. Understand that legislation regarding dog bite liability claims will often vary by state. For example, in Tennessee, the dog bite law can be found in section 44-8-413 of the Tennessee code. Additionally, Tennessee has a one-bite rule. On May 15, 2019, The Wilson Post offered an easily understood explanation of Tennessee dog bite law: “Dog owners must prevent pets from biting.”
  3. Inquire about local ordinances that may affect your decision to own a dog and/or what breed to choose. For example, John Bailey Company is located in Knoxville, TN, and the Knoxville Code of Ordinances has a complete chapter dedicated to animals.
  4. Investigate with your insurance agent the various ways insurers consider dog ownership and review your application for coverage. While some states have breed specific legislation (BSL), every insurance company views certain pure-bred and mixed-breed dogs differently. Transparency with your agent, your neighborhood, your HOA or your landlord will aid you in making the best decision regarding dog ownership. The III offers “Liability and safety tips for dog owners.”

Honesty is the best way to take the “bite” out of dog bite liability claims…

Our team members are frequently asked if homeowners or renter’s insurance policies cover dog bite claims. Coverage, of course, can depend on your specific policy, your insurer, the dog breed and where you live.

Remember, if you haven’t disclosed that you own one or more dogs and the breed(s), then the insurer most likely will deny your claim. Furthermore, if you do not own a dog at the time you purchase a homeowner or renter’s policy but become a dog owner in the future, then don’t forget to call your insurance agent.

The bottom line is this: our goal is to help our present and future clients insure a great life. And the best way to achieve that goal is for honesty to be the best policy.

Question or Comment?

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