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The Truth About Dog Bite Claims

by Rick Mcguinness

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 4.5 million Americans are bitten by a dog each year. This data is actually somewhat tricky to interpret, because most bites go unreported. Of those 4.5 million victims, about 20%, or 885,000 (of whom half are children), will seek medical attention for their wound.

Many Dogs are First-Time Biters

Many dog owners themselves believe that most dog bites are the result of an aggressive or "fighting" animal, or that bites will occur when someone who is unfamiliar with an animal has interacted improperly with it. Many wrongly conclude that if a dog has gone for some time without ever having bitten someone, it likely never will.

The data however, tells a different story - here are two facts worth considering:

  • 61% of dog bites occur in either the owner's or victim's home.

  • 77% of dog bite victims are members of, or close friends with, the dog owner's family and were familiar with animal that bit them.

Dog Bite Consequences

When it comes to domestic animal-related liability, not all states are the same.

Many states do not have specific dog bite statutes, and instead go by what is known as the "one bite rule." What this means is that a dog's owner is generally protected from liability for the first (and only one) biting incident. In other words, when a bite occurs with a dog that had previously bitten someone, the victim can sue the dog's owner.

Of course if the owner is in violation of some other law such as a leash law, or conduct-related statute, he/she may still be held liable. This will vary from state-to-state, and within each municipality.

Most insurance agencies also follow the "one bite rule". Typically, homeowners and renters insurance will cover dog bite liability claims up to a $100,000 to $300,000 limit. However, once your dog has bitten someone, your insurance agency may exclude that animal from future coverage, and your insurance premium may also be raised.

More than a third of all claims against homeowners insurance in 2012 were for dog bites. And while the number of claims has stayed virtually the same from 2009 to 2012, the average payment for a dog bite claim has increased 20% to $29,750.

Prevent Dog Bites

If you are a dog owner, the best way to avoid a claim is to make sure that your dog does not bite someone:

  • Spend time training and socializing him, especially around children and other dogs.

  • Don't allow others to disturb him when he is eating or sleeping.

  • Neuter him, because studies have shown that a dog is three times more likely to bite if he has not been neutered.

  • Restrain your dog behind a fence, not on a chain or tether.

  • Never assume that he will not bite, just because he hasn't ever before.

  • Contact an insurance provider such as C & H Insurance to see what they recommend you do to prevent dog bites, and possibly lower your insurance payments (safety measures often have this effect).

If you take the right precautions with your dog, you can ensure that he will never hurt anyone and that you will not be among the thousands of owners sued for dog bite injury.