Spotlight On: Dog Bite Liability

Training a Dog

About 69 million U.S. households own dogs, according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2021-2022 Pet Owners Survey. The American Veterinary Medical Association states there are nearly 85 million dogs living in U.S. households. About 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, most of them children.

Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability legal expenses, up to the liability limits (typically $100,000 to $300,000). If the claim exceeds the limit, the dog owner is responsible for all damages above that amount.

Dog bite liability and homeowners insurance

Some insurance companies will not insure homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls. Others decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether an individual dog, regardless of its breed has been deemed vicious. Some insurers do not ask the breed of a dog owned when writing or renewing homeowners insurance and do not track the breed of dogs involved in dog bite incidents. However, once a dog has bitten someone, it poses an increased risk. In that instance, the insurance company may charge a higher premium, nonrenew the homeowner’s insurance policy or exclude the dog from coverage.

Some insurers are taking steps to limit their exposure to such losses. Some companies require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, while others charge more for owners of breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers and others are not offering insurance to dog owners at all. Some will cover a pet if the owner takes the dog to classes aimed at modifying its behavior or if the dog is restrained with a muzzle, chain or cage.

Homeowners insurance liability claims

  • Liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries cost homeowners insurers $1,136 million in in 2022, according to the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) and State Farm®.
  • The number of dog bite claims nationwide decreased in 2022 to 17,597 from 17,989 in 2021—a 2.2 percent decrease, according to an analysis of homeowners insurance claims data by the Triple-I.
  • The average cost per claim increased 31.7 percent in 2022 to $64,555 from $49,025 in 2021. The average cost per claim nationally has risen 131.7 percent from 2013 to 2022, due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which are trending upwards.
  • By state, California continues to have the largest number of claims in the United States, at 1,954 in 2022, down from 2,026 in 2021. The state with the second highest number of claims was Florida with 1,331. California had the highest average cost per claim at $78,818, followed by Florida with an average cost of $78,203. The trend in higher costs per claim is attributable not only to dog bites but also to dogs knocking down children, cyclists, the elderly, etc., which can result in injuries that impact the potential severity of the losses

State and local legislation

In 29 states, dog owners are liable for injuries their pets cause, with some exceptions such as if the dog was provoked, according to a Triple-I analysis of dog bite laws compiled by the American Property Casualty Insurers Association as of March 2021.

In 17 states and the District of Columbia, liability is not automatically granted but attacks are classified as misdemeanors or, in extreme cases, as felonies, with fines. There are no laws for dog bites in four states—Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi and North Dakota. With regard to insurance, at least two states, Pennsylvania and Michigan, have laws that prohibit insurers from canceling or denying coverage to the owners of particular dog breeds in some policies. Some states could exclude coverage after a dog bite, such as Ohio, which also requires owners of dogs that have been classified as vicious to purchase at least $100,000 of liability insurance.

This white paper was presented to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) by animal rights groups in November 2020. It discusses what they see as the discriminatory impact of the insurance industry’s use of dog breed lists to deny homeowner and renters insurance policy sales, to issue policy non-renewals, and to place limitations on coverage.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, several states statutorily prohibit breed specific local ordinances.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic keeping more people at home in 2020 and an increase in home deliveries, the number of dog bite claims in the United States dropped by 4.6 percent from 2019. Additionally, a February 2021 survey from the Insurance Research Council, Consumer Responses to the Pandemic and Implications for Insurance, found that 21 percent of homeowners reported adopting a dog in 2020.

  • Dog owners’ liability: There are three kinds of law that impose liability on owners:
    1) A dog-bite statute: where the dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes without provocation.
    2) The one-bite rule: where the dog owner is responsible for an injury caused by a dog if the owner knew the dog was likely to cause that type of injury—in this case, the victim must prove the owner knew the dog was dangerous.
    3) Negligence laws: where the dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.
  • Criminal penalties: Dog owners could be charged with serious crimes if their dogs attack and severely injure people. In a 2002 California case, a woman and her husband were tried for second-degree murder after their Presa Canario dogs attacked and killed a neighbor. The woman was convicted of second-degree murder and her husband was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. This was only the third time that dog owners were tried for murder in the U.S. The first case was in Kansas in 1997.


Estimated Number and Cost of Dog Bite Claims, 2013-2022 (1)

Estimated Number and Cost of Dog Bite Claims 2013-2022

(1) Includes other dog-related injuries.
(2) Calculated from unrounded data.

Source: Insurance Information Institute, State Farm®.

Top 10 States By Estimated Number and Cost of Dog Bite Claims, 2022 (1)

Top 10 States By Estimated Number and Cost of Dog Bite Claims 2022

(1) Includes other dog-related injuries that have impacted claims such as fractures or other blunt force trauma injuries.

Source: Insurance Information Institute, State Farm®.

Number of U.S. Households That Own a Pet, by Type of Animal (millions)

Number of U.S. Households That Own a Pet by Type of Animal

Source: American Pet Products Association’s 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey.

View the original article here: Spotlight on Dog Bite Liability