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Does homeowners insurance cover dog bites?
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According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, over 38 percent of American households own dogs. Dog ownership comes with increased liability risks compared to most other household pets. Homeowners insurance might cover physical damage your dog causes to other people's property and payments toward dog-related injuries if they cause bodily injury to another person. However, every insurance company is different, and your insurance provider may exclude certain breeds and behaviors from your home insurance coverage. Understanding your insurance provider's policies regarding dogs may help you mitigate some of the financial costs of a dog bite injury.
When does homeowners insurance cover dog bites?
According to the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I), dog-related liability claims cost insurers more than $1 billion in 2022. Homeowners insurance may cover damages resulting from dog bites through the liability or medical payments coverage portions of your home insurance policy.
- Medical payments coverage: This coverage pays for medical costs if a guest is injured on your property, regardless of fault. If your dog bites a guest, this may pay for their medical bills up to your policy limits.
- Personal liability coverage: This coverage type covers legal costs related to incidents that occur on your property where you or a member of your household is liable. As your dog is your responsibility, if the dog bites someone, personal liability may be used to cover any legal fees associated with the incident, up to your policy limits.
Your dog bite insurance coverage may also apply if your dog bites another dog that does not live in your household. For example, if your dog runs off your property and bites another dog, you could be found legally liable for the incident.
Liability coverage and medical payments coverage have coverage limits. If you're concerned about your amount of coverage, you may want to consider getting an umbrella policy to have additional financial protection above your homeowners liability limit, should you need extra coverage. While extra liability coverage increases the cost of owning a pet, it may be worth it in the long run as long as the policy does not exclude your particular dog breed.
Breed-specific legislation (BSL) is a heavily debated topic among dog owners, insurance companies and animal professionals. BSL are laws that control or prohibit certain dog breeds that could be considered more dangerous to humans and other animals.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) notes that BSL became more popular in the 1980s due to high-profile dog attacks. Many studies of dog bites related to dog breeds ensued, with the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) releasing a list of aggressive dog breeds. Insurance companies have used this list for homeowner and renters insurance underwriting purposes ever since.
However, since 2006, the CDC has changed its stance and no longer supports dog-breed legislation. Due to DNA technology and several advocacy groups, over 100 cities have repealed breed-specific laws since 2018. Multiple states, like New York and Nevada, no longer allow insurance companies to use breed type as the sole reason to decline a homeowners policy to a dog owner.
As of November 19, 2022, the National Council of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL) created and adopted the Dog Breed Insurance Underwriting Protection Model Act. This provides guidance for states who want to make using breed-specific laws to decline home and renters insurance to policyholders illegal.
When does homeowners insurance not cover dog bites?
While homeowners insurance may cover dog bites in certain situations, some exclusions exist. Below are examples of common exclusions your homeowners insurance company may have for dog bites. Checking with your insurance agent or carrier is likely the best way to see how your coverage may or may not apply to dog-related incidents.
Excluded coverage for dog breeds
Your property insurer may have a restricted dog breed list. Dog breeds and mixes that are commonly excluded from coverage by homeowners insurance companies are:
- Alaskan Malamute
- Chow Chow
- Doberman Pinscher
- German Shepherd Dog
- Great Dane
- Pit Bull
- Presa Canario
- Staffordshire Terrier
- Siberian Husky
- Wolf dogs and hybrids
Should your dog fall on a restricted dog breed list, even if you got the dog after getting a homeowners insurance policy, a bite will likely not be covered. Check with your insurer, though, as carriers may have different breed restrictions (or none at all).
Excluded coverage for household members
Your homeowners insurance also will not cover dog-related injuries to you, your household members or your home or personal property if caused by a dog that you own. Say your dog bites a family member, such as your spouse, your homeowners liability coverage or medical payments coverage would not help cover any medical bills associated with this incident. The same restrictions apply if your dog bites another dog in your household.
How to file a homeowners insurance dog bite claim
The first step in filing a dog bite claim is to find out what your policy covers. You may be able to file a claim online by visiting your homeowners insurance provider’s website and following its steps. You can also contact your insurer, as many companies have 24/7 claims services. If your policy was set up with a local agent, you might have to contact them during regular business hours. The policy paperwork you received when setting up your homeowners insurance policy, including your declarations page, usually has a phone number listed on it to contact customer service or the claims department.
When filing a liability or medical payments claim for a dog bite, you may have to provide the following details to your insurance company:
- The name(s) of the injured individuals or animals
- Veterinary and behavioral records for the biting dog
- The date and circumstances surrounding the incident
- Any receipts for medical care related to the incident
- Any relevant legal documents related to litigation following the incident
How to prevent dog bites
Having your dog bite someone can be devastating for both you and the person who’s injured, so it’s important to try and minimize the likelihood of that happening. Here are a few tips that may help you prevent dog bites:
- Keep your dog on a leash. This helps to prevent your dog from biting someone, as well as from provoking an attack and getting injured by another animal.
- Introduce new people and dogs slowly. Keep your dog in a separate room when new people and dogs arrive. Once everyone is settled, let your dog approach your guest and observe their behavior. If your dog has a history of aggression or discomfort with other dogs or people, you may want to use a muzzle as an extra precaution during early interactions.
- Be honest with guests about how to interact with your dog. You know your dog best. If they don't react well to loud noises or are protective of certain toys or spaces, let your guest know.
- Teach your dog to stay at a distance from others. Training your dog to remain at a distance from others is another way to help keep your dog from intentionally or accidentally biting someone. This can be done by training your dog to stay on their bed in the living room or by rewarding them for not engaging with guests unless invited to. If your dog is aggressive toward guests, consider leaving the dog in their crate or a separate room while guests are over.
- Teach your dog to only chew on specific items. Teaching your dog to chew on or bite specific items, such as a chew toy, may help to prevent your dog from getting mouthy with guests or their belongings.
- Hire a professional dog trainer. Dogs with a history of aggression or fear of new people may require extra training. A professional dog trainer can help you properly train your dog to prevent bites by others. They also can recommend different training methods and other safety tips to help your dog safely interact with others.