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Dog bite claims and homeowners insurance

Fact-checked with HomeInsurance.com

Americans love their pets. But they don’t always love their insurance premiums—especially if they own a pet that causes their homeowners insurance rates to go through the roof. If your furry friend is a breed of dog considered to be dangerous, or if it has a history of biting, it can have an impact on your homeowners insurance. 

According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), American homes contain nearly 90 million dogs. Sadly, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) tells us that about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year, over half of which occurred with a dog known to the victim.

Because of this, you may find it challenging to obtain sufficient liability insurance if you own a breed of dog considered to be aggressive. Some of these breeds, including pit bulls, Rottweilers, huskies, pinschers, boxers and several others, have a bad reputation making them difficult or impossible to insure.

Whether you own a Pekingese or a Rottweiler though, most dog owners like to believe their pets are sweet-natured animals that wouldn’t hurt a fly, but animals can be unpredictable. A dog bite can happen to anyone, so it’s best to be prepared from an insurance standpoint. 

Does homeowners insurance cover dog bites?

Does home insurance cover dog bites? Yes, dog bite insurance is a regular part of your homeowners coverage. This is part of your liability coverage, which protects you from lawsuits and covers damages for household mishaps. It may also be covered under a section of your policy called medical payments, although this part of your policy has a low maximum — usually around $5K.

Oddly enough, even though this coverage is part of your homeowners policy, it covers you for dog incidents even if they take place away from your home. So if you take Fido to the local dog park and he takes a swipe at another dog owner while there, your coverage would still apply.

Homeowners can be held liable even in unusual situations. Many are surprised to find that they can be held responsible when a dog that’s not even theirs bites someone on their property. Other cases have included burglars filing claims against families when they’ve been bitten by the family dog as they tried to rob the house, astonishingly, winning damages.

Who needs more liability coverage?

If your dog is one of a breed that is considered aggressive, you may want to increase your dog bite liability insurance. According to DogsBite.org, the most reputedly-dangerous breeds are pit bull terriers, rottweilers, fighting dogs such as the presa canario and wolf-dog hybrids. Even if you have a small dog, however, it’s capable of inflicting damage through a bite that requires medical attention.

Although your basic policy provides some coverage, it may be wise for dog owners to consider umbrella insurance, which extends the liability from your homeowners insurance. Available in limits of $1 to $10 million, it can make up the financial gaps if your homeowners liability limit maxes out.     

The consequences of not disclosing “aggressive breeds”

Let’s say you have a rottweiler who is a big softy: “he’s great with children, never aggressive, and loves chin scratches.” You are sure he’d never bite anyone, no matter what the circumstances, so when you apply for a homeowners policy for your newly-purchased home, you “forget” to mention him to your insurance agent.

That might seem like a good idea at the time, but it could come back to haunt you. If the worst happens — let’s say a guest in your home accidentally steps on the dog’s foot and he instinctively responds by snapping back — you could be on the hook for any medical care needed, as well as liability costs, because you never told your insurer that you owned a potentially dangerous breed of dog. 

In such situations, homeowners with dogs may face the same challenges policyholders do whenever they withhold pertinent information from their insurer. Your claim may be fully or partially denied because of your failure to disclose, or because you exhausted liability limits. 

You may find your policy cancelled and face higher premiums in the future. You could also be charged with an insurance fraud felony for failing to disclose the information and be charged criminally. Sometimes insurers won’t insure those with insurance fraud convictions and other felonies no matter what. Dog bites insurance claims can leave you without homeowners insurance for a long time — and that’s not good. The bottom line: disclose your dog breed and ensure you have adequate coverage.

What to do after your dog bites someone?

If your dog bites someone, it will probably lead to some level of chaos as you work to restrain the animal and see what damage has been done. It pays to keep a cool head and handle the situation in a calm manner, endeavoring to keep both your dog and the bitten victim safe from further damage. Here are some things that you should consider:

  • If your dog is loose, and especially if he shows signs of further aggression, your first task should be to get him on a lead and move him away from the scene of the attack.
  • Assess the victim’s injuries. Determine if you need to call 911, make a trip to the emergency clinic, or handle any injuries yourself if minor. Offer to drive the person to the emergency room or clinic as needed. It may make them less likely to take legal action if you indicate you’ll pay for their medical costs. 
  • If the victim is not seriously hurt, exchange contact and insurance information with them. Be open and willing to communicate, and act responsibly — both because it’s the right thing to do, and because you don’t want to present yourself as an adversary.
  • If there are eyewitnesses, get their contact information as well, if they are willing to give it.
  • Call your insurance company. Follow any directions they give you, and be honest in explaining what happened, even if it puts your dog in a bad light.
  • In some states, it is illegal to leave the scene following a dog bite incident. If you’re at a dog park or other venue outside of your house, it may be a good idea to put your dog in your car (unless it’s hot outside, which could be dangerous to the animal), where he’s contained and safe.
  • Another phone call you’ll need to make is to your local animal control facility. In many states, the law is authorized to remove your dog from the premises if he’s bitten someone. He will be quarantined at a shelter or vet’s office until the case is resolved. 
  • If the dog bite was severe enough to break the skin, the victim’s health care professionals will want to see proof of a rabies vaccination (which you should always be current on).

What to do after you have been bit by another dog?

Your first task if you have been bitten by a dog that’s not your own is to get to a safe place. If the dog is with their owner, it’s that person’s responsibility to restrain the animal. If it’s a stray or unattended dog, do your best to get away, although if you can, restrain the dog (or have someone do so for you). Restraining or corralling the dog (when safe to do so) allows it to be tested for rabies and kept from attacking anyone else.

Here are some other things to consider when you’ve been bitten:

  • Safety is paramount. Before you engage with the other owner or anyone else, do what you can to ensure you’re not at risk of a further attack.
  • Once the dog is contained, getting any needed medical care is your next task. Ask for help from the owner or bystanders if needed.
  • Do not become confrontational with the other owner, even if it’s clearly their fault. Remain calm, and ask them for contact and insurance information. 
  • Get contact info from witnesses as well.
  • If the dog is a stray, catch the dog if you can. Call the local animal control facility to keep the dog under observation and test it for rabies. Rabies is a fatal illness, and unless you can ensure that the dog doesn’t have it, you may face serious medical procedures.  
  • After your medical needs have been cared for, contact your insurer. They will be able to handle the paperwork involved if there is a claim on the dog owner’s policy. If the dog is a stray, you should be covered by your health insurance, but it’s still a good idea to let your insurance provider know about the situation.

The takeaway 

  • Although some breeds are more dangerous than others, any dog can inflict a bite wound that could potentially require medical care.
  • Homeowners insurance covers most dog bites, although those with aggressive dogs may want to consider additional liability or an umbrella policy.
  • If your dog bites someone, contain the animal, get medical assistance as needed and call your insurance company.
  • If you’re bitten by a stray, keep the animal under observation so you can eliminate the possibility of rabies.

Although we want to think our pets are perfect, any dog can inflict a bite on someone. If that happens to you, cooperating with the victim and authorities can make it less likely that you’ll be sued or will lose your dog. 

It pays to understand the laws of your state regarding dog bites, as they differ depending on where you live — and may impact your insurance coverage. Insurance precautions can be invaluable if your dog bites a person, or you are bitten by a dog yourself.

Mary Van Keuren

After 30 years as a writer and editor in academia, Mary now writes full-time for the insurance and finance industries. Her work has appeared on Reviews.com, TheSimpleDollar.com and Bankrate.com, as well as other consumer-focused websites.

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