People love their pets. Especially dogs. The dog is America’s favorite pet. Living within U.S. households are approximately 85 million dogs, which means 45% of homes have at least one dog. (1) Wise Voter.com reports that in Massachusetts, 29% of households have at least one dog. (2) Dogs are also the favorite pet of McSweeney & Ricci staffers, (more than half of us have one or more). There’s just nothing that compares to the loyalty and companionship a dog provides. All dogs are good dogs, but it’s important to remember that any dog can bite. Just as the temperatures in Massachusetts and throughout New England increase with the Spring and Summer months, so does the incidence of dog bites as owners bring their four-legged friends out for exercise. Recently it’s not an increase in dog bites that’s happening, it’s an increase in the cost of dog-related claims. Continue reading to find out:
- which dog breeds are considered “unacceptable” by some insurance companies
- who should have insurance for dog bites
- what type of insurance will protect you from the costs of a dog bite claim
- if you own a dog on the list of so called “dangerous breeds” can you still get insurance
- why costs associated with dog bite claims have increased
- how to avoid dog-related injuries in the first place.
Which Dog Breeds Are Deemed Unacceptable by Some Insurance Companies?
When you purchase homeowners’ insurance your insurance agent will ask you questions such as, how old is your home, do you run a business from your home, etc. One of the questions your Account Manager will ask is “do you own a dog?” If your answer is yes, your Account Manager will add that information to your account. They need to know what breed of dog you own, as insurance companies can limit or deny coverage to certain dog breeds, they deem dangerous. Insurance companies have developed lists of “banned dogs” to try and reduce their risk and the cost they pay out for dog bite claims.
Being dog lovers, those of us at McSweeney & Ricci feel it’s unfair to deem an entire breed “dangerous,” when we all know every dog has its own unique temperament and personality. A growing movement led by dog advocate groups such as the Animal Defense League and the American Kennel Club is calling for a moratorium on “banned breed lists,” saying it’s wrong for home insurance companies to discriminate against dogs by breed. Some states such as Vermont don’t allow insurers to ban breeds. Other states have proposed legislation like Vermont’s but in the meantime, homeowners’ insurance companies are required to follow each state’s individual laws. (3)
In Massachusetts, the list of breeds deemed unacceptable varies slightly by insurance company, but most will exclude coverage for owners of the following full or mixed breed dogs:
- Alaskan Malamute
- American Staffordshire Terrier
- Chow Chow
- Doberman Pinscher
- Eskimo Spitz
- German Shephard
- Mastiff (All Breeds)
- Pit Bull
- Portuguese Fila
- Presa Canario
- Wolf Hybrid
Some breeds such as Beauceron, Belgian Malinois, Boxers, Bulldogs, Cane Corso’s, Catahoula Leopard, Coyote Mixes, Dogo Argentino, Giant Schnauzers, Great Danes, Shar-Pei, Spitz’s, St. Bernards, Thai Ridgebacks, Tosa Inu and Weimaraner’s are unacceptable by some companies but may be considered by others on a case-by-case basis.
In addition, most insurance companies will not offer coverage for any dog that has exhibited aggressive or protective behavior or with previous biting history. Most companies also won’t renew a home insurance policy if an “unacceptable dog” is discovered in the home but wasn’t disclosed in the original policy.
Who Needs Insurance for Dog Bites?
If someone is bitten or attacked by a dog, they can file a claim with the dog owner’s insurance company to cover their medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages resulting from the dog bite. If you own a dog, regardless of breed, you should have some form of personal liability insurance to protect you. We’ve known some pit bulls that are big babies and some chihuahuas that bit everyone that tried to pat them. No matter how docile or loving your dog may be, any dog has the potential to bite. A dog that feels scared, nervous, is guarding their food or owner, protecting their pups, playing with their toys, or isn’t feeling well could bite their owners or someone else. It’s not just bites or attacks dog owners need insurance for. What if your big Cane Corso gets so excited when your friend comes over, he jumps up, knocks her over, and fractures her hip while attempting to cover her in kisses or if your German Shephard attacks and kills your neighbor’s cat.
The laws surrounding dog bites differ by state, but Massachusetts is a strict liability state, meaning that the dog’s owner is responsible for any harm the dog does to people or property, and the victim doesn’t have to prove negligence to receive compensation. Even if your dog barely broke the skin and you tried to prevent the attack with a leash, a fence, electric collar/fence, or by blocking the attack with your own body, someone can sue you for pain and suffering. There are few exceptions such as if the person attacked was trespassing, teasing, tormenting or abusing your dog.
What Type of Insurance Can Help Protect Me from Dog Bite Claims?
While actual “dog bite insurance” is a stand-alone product that we don’t advise purchasing (more on this below), bodily injury and property damage that you are responsible for (such as dog bites) are all types of risk that fall under the “personal liability” portion of your of your home insurance or renters’ insurance policy. Your homeowners’ or renters’ insurance policy automatically includes some coverage for personal liability but only up to the limits of the policy. This portion of your coverage can help you pay your legal defense expenses, lawsuit settlements, a third party’s medical bills, and a third party’s property damage. So, if your boxer bites the newspaper boy and you’re sued for medical payments, pain and suffering, you need enough coverage to pay your legal defense costs, the resulting medical bills along with the lawsuit settlement amount. If the limits of your policy aren’t enough, you’re left to pay out of pocket for the remainder.
It’s important to know the liability limits of your home or renters’ policy and McSweeney & Ricci recommends all dog owners purchase additional coverage through a personal umbrella policy. An umbrella provides higher liability limits of $1,000,000 or $5,000,000 and serves as an added layer of protection after the limits of your other insurance policies have been reached. An umbrella helps pay for legal defense costs and court settlements and is very affordable.
A $1 million umbrella policy can cost less than $300 annually.
Not only can an umbrella help provide coverage for dog bite claims but it can also protect your liability in other unforeseen circumstances. A personal umbrella can provide coverage for third party property damage or bodily injury in instances such as:
- A guest at your house party overindulges and causes an accident on their way home,
- Your neighbor slips on ice in your driveway and sues you for damages, or
- Your newly licensed teen driver causes an auto accident, and many more.
There is such a thing as actual “dog bite insurance” it’s commonly referred to as “Dog Liability Insurance.” We don’t recommend purchasing one of these stand-alone policies, because if you own a breed on the “banned dog” list or if your dog has previously been aggressive, your homeowners’ insurance carrier could still cancel your policy despite having this coverage. Your McSweeney and Ricci Account Manager can help find the right carrier for your unique situation.
If My Dog is on the List of Banned Dogs, Can I still Get Insurance?
If you have a breed of dog that’s listed as “unacceptable,” don’t despair our team can still find you quality homeowners’ insurance. Not all insurance companies offering Massachusetts homeowners insurance will exclude dogs based on their breed. We represent more top-rated insurance carriers than most insurance agencies our size and can find you great coverage for your home, cars, and all your four-legged furry friends.
If you’ve had a previous dog bite claim or your dog has a history of aggressive behavior, it’s possible your homeowners’ or renters’ insurance premium may increase. Your best bet is to consult with your McSweeney & Ricci Account Manager, who will work with you to find affordable coverage. Another reason there’s just no substitute for a local independent insurance agent, like us.
Dog Bites and the Increased Cost of Dog-related Claims
With so many dogs living in American households there are millions of people (mostly children) bitten by dogs each year. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Insurance Information Institute (III) report that more than 4.5 million Americans a year are bit by dogs.” (1) Thankfully not every dog bite results in extensive injuries, but some can cause significant damage or even death. Roughly 1 in 5 people bitten by a dog requires medical attention and around 16 fatalities are due to dog-bites or attacks annually. (4) About half of the victims of dog attacks are children and the most frequent victims of dog bites and attacks are children, the elderly and postal carriers.
The good news is that from 2021 to 2022 the number of dog bites and dog-related injury claims decreased slightly (2.2%). At the same time, the cost of those claims increased by 32% from an average of $49,025 per claim to $64,555 per claim. (5)
The resulting cost of a dog bite claim depends upon how severe the injury is, where the incident took place, and other factors. While the average cost in 2022 was $64,555 some claims can exceed hundreds of thousands of dollars if the victim requires extensive medical treatment or suffers permanent disability.
|Year||# of Dog Bite Claims||Avg Cost Per Dog Bite Claim||Total Cost of Dog-related Claims|
What’s Responsible for the Increase Cost of Dog-Related Claims?
The spike in costs due to dog-related injuries is caused by an increase in medical care costs and an increase in the size of settlements, jury awards and judgements given to plaintiffs according to Janet Ruiz, the director of Strategic Communication for the Insurance Information Institute (III). (6) Part of the cost increase may also be due to social inflation. Social inflation describes how insurers’ claims costs are increasing above economic inflation which is thought to be due to increasing litigation costs brought by plaintiffs seeking large monetary relief for their injuries. (7)
How Can I Avoid a Dog Bite Claim?
Most dog bites are preventable. Practicing responsible dog ownership, proper training, and socialization can help prevent a bite or attack.
The National Dog Bite Prevention Coalition recommends the following tips to help prevent your dog from biting: (1)
- A healthy pet is a happy pet. A dog who is feeling sick or in pain is more likely to bite. Keep up with regular veterinarian appointments for your dog to make sure he/she is healthy.
- Invest in a dog trainer or educate yourself in proper canine training techniques.
- Start socializing your dog early but take it slow. Limit new situations and introductions to both people and other dogs, to short periods of time to allow your dog to adjust. Gradually increase the amount of time and give plenty of praise and rewards when things go well.
- If your dog consistently overreacts to visitors, keep your dog secured at home.
- Never encourage your dog to play aggressively
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Insurance Information Institute (III) recommend the following tips for encountering unfamiliar dogs in public: (8&9)
- Always ask before petting or approaching someone else’s dog, even if the pet seems friendly. Look for signs the dog wants to interact with you. Just like humans, sometimes dogs want to be left alone and people need to be respectful of that.
- Do not pet a dog that is barking, growling, eating, caring for puppies, sleeping, if it appears to be hiding, scared or seems to want to be alone
- Never let young children play with dogs unsupervised
- If an unfamiliar dog approaches you, stay still, avoid eye contact with the dog and calmly say “no” or “go home” while standing with the side of your body facing the dog.
Dogs add fun, companionship, laughter, exercise, love and so much more to their owner’s lives. As much as we sometimes assign human attributes to our pets, they’re still animals, and any dog has the potential to bite and cause harm. Dog owners need to practice responsible pet ownership and have the proper levels of insurance in place to protect themselves and others from the financial consequences of a dog bite claim. Always disclose owning a dog to your insurance agent who can make sure the limits of your Massachusetts homeowners’ or renters’ insurance are adequate and discuss adding another layer of protection with personal umbrella insurance.
At McSweeney & Ricci, we get it, your dog’s a member of the family. Ours are too! We want to make sure you’re covered for the unexpected, so you can get back to enjoying time with your furry friend. With over fifty years of experience protecting individuals, families and businesses on the South Shore of Massachusetts and beyond, you can rely on us for affordable insurance solutions for your home, car, boat, business and more. With two offices in Marshfield and Braintree, Massachusetts, we’re your independent local insurance agent offering customized and flexible insurance protection. For more information on insurance for dog bites or a personal umbrella policy to add your existing coverage, complete the form on this page or give us a call at (844) 501-1359.
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- Dog-Related Claims Cost $1 Billion in 2022Dog-Related Claims Cost $1 Billion in 2022 (iamagazine.com)