A Guide for Homeowners Insurance and Dog Bites

A man walks his dog along a bridge while speaking to a SelectQuote agent on the phone

Unfortunately, our beloved animals don’t always behave as we hope and they can bite, hurt or injure other animals and humans when we least expect it. On average, there are a staggering 4.5 million reported dog bites in the U.S. every year. And while all dogs are capable of biting or hurting others, breeds such as pitbulls, rottweilers, Siberian huskies, german shepherds and akitas have more reported incidents and therefore are considered higher risk than other breeds. In the case that your animal does bite, injure, or cause death to another, under tort law, you are the responsible party. 

Many insurers will not insure homeowners that own certain dangerous breeds. Statistical data shows that certain breeds have a much higher propensity towards biting and aggressive behavior towards other animals and humans. In the event that a dog bites, injures or kills someone, that dog can be taken from the owner, and euthanized if it’s considered an ongoing risk. The outcome can be tragic and the guilt can be long-lasting.

If the victim decides to sue, and many do, judgments can be pretty staggering. Some victims of serious dog bites and trauma have been awarded as much as $200,000.00. A plaintiff’s lawyer will typically ask for, and can win, a judgment for medical bills, pain and suffering, loss of income, and possibly, for permanent trauma or psychological damage. 

Does homeowners insurance cover dog bites?

Personal liability insurance can help protect you in the event that you’re sued due to an injury caused by your dog. If your breed is one of those deemed higher risk, however, you may be responsible for more of the coverage. If the injuries and damages exceed the limits of your homeowners insurance policy, you could be also held personally liable for medical costs or damages that exceed your policy limits. 

When shopping for homeowners insurance, it’s likely you’ll be asked if you have a dog or any other pets. If you do own a breed that’s considered aggressive or dangerous, you may expect to pay higher premiums and/or be denied certain coverages. If your dog bites someone, here are a few steps you should take to ensure the situation is handled to the best of your ability:

  1. Diffuse the situation – Do your best to remove and calm your dog without causing anymore injury to the other party or yourself.
  2. Communicate with the other party – Take the time to understand the severity of their injury and ask what you can do to help in addition to apologizing for the behavior of your animal. Showing you are apologetic and willing to help can potentially help you avoid a costly lawsuit in the future. If you do go to court, they will take into consideration your behavior following the accident.
  3. Take notes and exchange information – Make detailed notes of the incident including time, place, witnesses, etc. Then, take the time to exchange information with the injured party for future legalities.
  4. Take responsibility – Whether it was a freak accident or not, it is important to accept and express responsibility for your dog’s actions. This will show you are taking the matter seriously and could also play in your favor if the injured decided to sue you. 

Does renters insurance cover dog bites?

Yes, renters insurance does cover dog bites, but much like homeowners insurance, there are limits. Renters insurance will take into consideration not only the breed of your dog, but also its size. And while your renters insurance will likely cover any damage your dog causes to someone else’s property, it will not protect your personal property. 

If you’re a landlord, you could potentially be liable for a renter’s dog’s behavior, especially if you knew that the tenant’s dog was a dangerous breed or had exhibited aggressive behavior in the past. Some courts have assigned liability to the landlord in the theory of prior knowledge or ignoring the danger of an aggressive dog to tenants or the public at large.

Limitations on Medical Coverage with Homeowners Insurance

The cost of a visit to the ER or any hospitalization due to a dog bite can really add up—especially if the injuries require stitches, emergency surgery, reconstructive surgery or rehabilitation. Not only will the action of your dog’s bite leave you responsible for the victim’s current injuries, but you would also be responsible for any future medical bills associated with the accident. 

Both the personal liability coverage and medical payment coverage of your homeowners insurance should be sufficient for a typical dog bite if this incident were to happen to you. If you don’t have sufficient coverage or insurance at all, you would be liable for 100% of the payments. And in the case your homeowners insurance policy doesn’t have high enough limits, you would then be responsible for the difference.  

In the rare case that an owner actually sics or encourages the dog to bite someone, it is considered a criminal act and the dog owner may be prosecuted in criminal and civil proceedings. The victim’s insurance will then pay for these injuries, and in some states, there are also crime victims funds. 

Does homeowners insurance cover dog bites that happen off of my property?

Typically homeowners insurance will cover dog bites that happen off of your property if it takes place in locations such as the dog park, the vet, while traveling with you in your car, etc. Additionally, if someone tresspasses on your property, you may not be held liable. However, when you’re beyond your home and any place outside of the above mentioned, it’s important to exercise caution, especially if you let your dog off of the leash. State laws vary, so negligence and liability may be defined differently from state to state.

For renters, it may be a completely different scenario when it comes to insurance coverage when you’re away from your home. Renters insurance will typically only afford you liability protection if your dog bites someone outside of your apartment or condo. 

What happens if my dog bites another dog?

Much like if your dog bites a human, you could be liable for the injured dog’s vet bills and any other damages if your dog is at fault. Serious dog bites can be expensive and emotionally draining and can potentially involve months of litigation. Some states like California (a strict liability state) hold the owner of the aggressive animal liable for the vet bills and any other related bills for the care of the injured animal. It’s best to ensure you have enough coverage through your homeowners insurance to cover the responsibility of your animal if an accident like this were to arise. 

Restricted Dog Breeds from Homeowners Insurance

Here are the dog breeds considered to be the most dangerous by dog experts and insurance companies:

  • Akita
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • American Pit Bull Terrier
  • Chow Chow
  • Cane Corso
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • German Shepherd
  • Great Dane
  • Presa Canarios
  • Rottweiler
  • Siberian Husky
  • Staffordshire Bull Terrier
  • Wolf Hybrid

This list should not be considered exhaustive, as these are just some of the breeds that have recorded aggressive behavior. There are many insurance companies, however, that look beyond the breed of dog and assess each animal and their living situation individually for behavior.

How to Prevent Your Dog from Biting

  • Socialize your animal with both humans and other animals as early as possible. Dogs learn by watching and interacting with others, and if they are raised to be gentle, obedient, and to play nicely, there’s a much greater chance that they will be less prone to dangerous, aggressive behavior. 
  • Take the time to properly train your dog. Whether it’s to obey commands, to walk on a leash or to behave when they’re untethered, positive reinforcement and the support of professionals can go a long way in raising a friendly and non-aggressive animal.
  • If you know that your dog doesn’t play well with other dogs or is fearful of strangers, do not place your animal in high-stress situations where they feel the need to protect either you or themselves.
  • Help your dog avoid “triggers” and use support tools such as a leash, gentle leaders and training collars.

SelectQuote Can Help You Navigate Your Homeowners Insurance Coverage for Dog Bites

Whether you’re new to shopping for homeowners insurance or need to change your policy after adding a furry friend to the family, we can help. At SelectQuote, we can help answer any questions you have about home insurance—including questions about your dog—and help you compare coverage and rates from some of the most trusted insurance companies in the nation. In just minutes, we can help you find the right coverage with the right carrier at the right price for you and your family.

* https://blogs.findlaw.com/injured/2017/03/how-much-is-a-dog-bite-injury-lawsuit-worth.html#:~:text=On%20average%2C%20people%20can%20expect%20around%20%2440%2C000%20for,out-of-pocket%20expenses%2C%20lost%20wages%2C%20and%20other%20consequential%20damages.

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