Study: Dog Bite Claims Up 8.7% in 2008

September 17, 2009

Man’s best friend is sinking its teeth into homeowners insurance costs. Dog bites account for one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims, costing $387.20 million in 2008, up 8.70 percent from 2007, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).

An analysis of homeowners insurance data by the I.I.I. found that the average cost of dog bite claims was $24,461 in 2008 (the most recent figures available) down slightly from $24,511 in 2007. Since 2003, however, the cost of these claims has risen nearly 28 percent. Additionally, the number of claims has increased 8.89 percent to 15,823 in 2008 from 14,531 in 2007.

“The rise in dog bite claims over the course of the past five years can be attributable to the increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards which have risen well above inflation in recent years,” said Loretta Worters, vice president of the I.I.I.

More than 4.5 million people in the U.S. are bitten by dogs annually, and nearly 900,000 of those — half of them children — require medical care, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 31,000 Americans needed reconstructive surgery after dogs attacked them in 2006, center figures show. With more than 50 percent of bites occurring on the dog owner’s property, the issue is a major source of concern for insurers.

Dog Owner Liability

There are three kinds of law that impose liability on owners:

  • Dog-bite statute: The dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes, even without provocation.
  • “One-bite” rule: In some states, the owner is not held liable for the first bite the dog inflicts. Once an animal has demonstrated vicious behavior, such as biting or otherwise displaying a “vicious propensity”, the owner can be held liable. Some states have moved away from the one-bite rule and hold owners responsible for any injury, regardless of whether the animal has previously bitten someone.
  • Negligence laws: The dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.

In most states, dog owners are not liable to trespassers who are injured by a dog. A dog owner who is legally responsible for an injury to a person or property may be responsible for reimbursing the injured person for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and property damage.

“Although some people purchase dogs for the purpose of guarding their homes, deadbolt locks and home security systems are safe burglary deterrents and that will often earn you a discount on your insurance premium,” said Worters.

A single lawsuit — even if won — can end up costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, Worters said.

“Most dogs are friendly, loving members of the family,” said Worters. “But even normally docile dogs may bite when they are frightened or when protecting their puppies, owners or food. Ultimately, the responsibility for properly training and controlling a dog rests with the owner.”

Source: Insurance Information Institute

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