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For many Americans, dogs play an important role in the family dynamic. They’re included in Christmas cards, family vacations, and sometimes share the main bed in the house. It’s a sweet thing to love a dog and receive a dog’s love in return.

Almost 90 million dogs are owned as pets in the United States according to a 2017-2018 survey by the American Pet Products Association (III.org). Of that 90 million, a staggering 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year…and children makeup the highest number of victims. When it comes to your homeowners and renters, generally, you’re covered. But it’s important to know the breakdown of liability and what it might cost you if your beloved dog were to harm someone.

Typically, a standard homeowners or renters policy will cover dog bite liability legal expenses anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000. If the claim exceeds that limit, the dog owner is responsible for all damages above that amount.

Liability and Homeowners Insurance

There are instances, however, in which insurance companies will not insure homeowners. Dog owners who own certain breeds of dogs deemed dangerous can and will be excluded from policies. The most common example is the pit bull. Other insurance companies will decide on coverage on a case-by-case basis. There are, however, many insurance companies that do not ask for the breed of dog nor do they track the breed of dog involved in dog bite claims. However, once a dog has bitten someone and a claim is filed, the risk goes up in the eyes of the insurance company. They can then turn around and charge a higher premium, non-renew the insurance, or exclude the dog itself from coverage.

Service Dogs

The use of service animals has greatly increased over the years. Many people utilize service dogs for obvious physical needs, but many people have service dogs for emotional support as well. The use of a service dog for emotional support, typically, is not as apparent as a service dog for physical purposes. With this increase in service dog usage, we advise landlords to make the final call when it comes to allowing service animals in the rented property. With the rise of the internet, many people can pay a fee to get their dog “certified” as a support pet without much proof of what the animal typically supports. We share this to educate landlords and to help them make informed decisions about potential tenants.

Limiting Risk

There are some insurance companies that are taking steps to limit their exposure to dog bite claims. The companies themselves are requiring dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites while others are charging more in premiums to owners of certain breed types. And of course, there are instances where coverage is outright refused based on the dog’s breed. Given the risk exposure of some breeds, insurance companies are even going as far to only provide coverage if the owner takes the dog to classes aimed at modifying behavior or if the dog remains restrained with a muzzle, chain, or cage.

As a pet owner, there are steps you can take to mitigate risk. While these are not sure-fire ways to prevent a bite and in no way exonerate you from liability, they do help provide peace of mind.

● Make sure your dog’s vaccinations are always up-to-date
● Watch and monitor your pet at all times, especially around children and new visitors
● Ensure your dog is properly enclosed in the backyard and cannot escape, if left alone
● Make sure your dog has adequate training and has been properly socialized

Here at Ramey King, we love our dogs and love having them a part of the family. If you have questions about your coverage or want to know more about any liability exposure, contact us today at 940-382-9691!