According to the 2017 statistics of the Center for Disease Control (“CDC”), approximately 4.5 million dog bites occur in the United States every year.1 With the United States population as of 2017 at approximately 325.8 million, that means “man’s best friend” bites 1 out of every 72 people a year.2 The CDC 2017 figures indicate that one-half of all children by the age of 12 have been bitten by a dog with 5 to 9 year-old boys being at the highest risk.3 That statistic is not surprising when you consider that children have less experience in reading dog behavior, are more likely to engage in activity that alarms or stimulates a dog, and are less able to defend themselves when a dog becomes aggressive.
The American Pet Products Association (“APPA”) puts the ownership of pets for 2017-2018 at 68.9% of households nationwide or about 85 million families.4 The average cost to own a dog in 2017 was approximately $1,075 and to own a cat approximately $743 with these amounts not including any long term medical care or surgeries.5
The Insurance Information Institute and State Farm, figured that in 2017, about one-third (1/3) of all homeowner’s liability claim dollars paid out nationwide resulted from dog-bites or dog-related injuries. With an average cost for each injury of more than $37,051, that cost for insurers is more than $700 million total annually.6
With these statistics, and if you are one of the 68.9% of households with a dog as a family member, one has to ask—are you covered under your current homeowners’ insurance policy if your dog bites or otherwise injuries someone who is not a family member? The good news is that most standard homeowners insurance policies contain liability clauses with language like the following:
Losses We Cover Under Coverage Y: Guest Medical Protection:
We will pay the reasonable expenses incurred for necessary medical, surgical, x-ray and dental services; ambulance, hospital, licenses nursing and funeral services; and prosthetic devices, eye glasses, hearing aids, and pharmaceuticals. These expenses must be incurred and the services performed within three years from the date of an occurrence causing bodily injury to which this policy applies, and is covered by this part of the policy.
Each person who sustains bodily injury is entitled to this protection when that person is:
(1) On the insured premises with the permission of an injured person; or
(2) Off the insured premises, if the bodily injury:
(a) … .
(b) … .
(c) is caused by an animal owned by or in the care of an insured person;
The bad news is that many insurance companies typically have their own “one-bite rule” meaning that the insurer will only pay for the first occurrence and then after that “one bite,” will either “cancel” your policy or add a “canine exclusion.” If that happens, then the next question to ask is: “What’s in my Wallet?” because you will be picking up your dog’s second blunder.
Other exclusions that some insurance companies may employ with or without the “one bite rule” are “caps” on payment or limits on “who” the attacks cover. For example, some policies exclude mailmen and meter readers as this is seen as just a hazardous part of their job. Other insurance companies have lists of breeds and cross breeds—“blacklists”—commonly identified as “dangerous breeds” that they will not insure. Some breeds on the blacklist could include; Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, Chows, Presa Canario Bulldogs, Siberian Huskies, German Shepherds, and Doberman Pinschers. If you encounter one of these breeds, or really any unfamiliar dog, below are a few things you can do to help not trigger an attack or better protect yourself:
- Do not run from a dog, panic or make loud noises.
- If an unfamiliar dog approaches you, remain motionless. Do not run or scream. Avoid direct eye contact.
- Do not disturb a dog while they are eating, sleeping, or taking care of their puppies.
- Allow a dog to sniff and smell you before you attempt to pet it. Afterward scratch the animal under the chin, not on the head.
- If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball and remain motionless. Be sure to cover your ears and neck with your hands and arms. Avoid eye contact and remain calm.7
The forgoing list may be especially important to Texans, because according to a national dog-bite database, Texas led the nation in the number of dog bite fatalities over an eight-year period and ranks 5th out of the top 10 states with the highest estimated number and costs of dog bite claims with 688 reported in 2017.
More bad news, Texas is one of only 18 states that requires a Plaintiff to prove negligence by the owner in a dog bite case which means proof of failing to act with “reasonable care.” Examples of failing to act with “reasonable care” could be: (1) failing to leash a dog when a legal ordinance requires a dog to be leashed; (2) failing to restrain a dog that has demonstrated aggression in the past; or (3) encouraging or instructing a dog to attack/bite someone.
Finally, general policy language, like that quoted above, would cover your dog’s bite of another pet parent at one of the popular dog parks; however, courts have made inconsistent rulings when your dog is in a car and bits someone through the window or from the open back of a pick-up. Both homeowner policies and automobile policies often provide coverage for the eventually of a dog bite. If you have coverage from both policies, let the insurers duke it out in court regarding which insurer will pay. What’s in your Policy?