As the old adage says, dogs are man’s best friend. They greet us when we come home, loyally follow us around, and are always ready for a belly rub or game of fetch. In the U.S. alone, 78 million dogs are owned as pets. Many families view their dogs as a member of the family. But as much as we love Fido, we have to remember he is also a domesticated animal. Unfortunately, even the best dogs can bite if they feel threatened or provoked. It’s important to understand how dog bite incidents can happen, and how a dog-related injury can affect insurance policies.
Facts About Dog Bites
The CDC reports an estimated 4.5 million dog bites per year. 20% of those will become infected and require treatment.
Unsupervised children ages 5-9 are most at risk for dog bites.
The majority of dog bites happen at home with familiar dogs (owned by the family or friends of the family).
Does Breed Matter?
Certain breeds have the stereotype of being more aggressive and dangerous than others. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AMVA) has conducted multiple studies regarding breeds and dog bite incidences. They found that the five most common breeds in biting incidences were: German Shepherds, Mixed Breeds, Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and Jack Russell Terriers. However, the AMVA is quick to point out that you must also account for the prevalence of these breeds in a population. Their studies also concluded that small- to medium-sized dogs (i.e. collies, toy breeds, spaniels) are actually more aggressive towards people, but are less likely to inflict serious injuries with their bites. The AMVA also found that owners are more likely to seek treatment for aggression in larger dogs than smaller ones.
Ultimately, the AMVA and CDC have not found conclusive evidence that certain breeds are more prone to aggression than others. In fact, while reviewing 256 bite cases, the AMVA could only determine the breed in 20% of cases. Instead, the AMVA has determined three factors that do contribute to aggression in dogs:
Dogs that were un-neutered or un-spayed
Owner abuse or neglect
Failure to quickly intervene in an attack
Insuring Your Dog
Claims related to dog bites are extremely costly for insurance companies. In fact, the average dog bite claim is 25 times an insured’s annual premium. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), dog-related injuries account for over one-third of all homeowner liability claims, totaling $570 million. This figure also includes incidences of dogs knocking children over, encounters with cyclists, etc. The number of injury claims related to dogs decreased 7% in 2015, but the cost per claim rose 16%. In 2015, the average dog-bite claim cost $37,214. California and Illinois lead the nation in the number of dog bite claims.
Due to the high cost of dog-related injuries, insurance companies each handle dog-related claims differently. For example, some insurers waive their liability from bites, or charge a premium if the dog is a specific breed. Other insurance companies, such as State Farm and Farmer’s, promote their policies that don’t discriminate against any specific breed. In an interview with the Huffington Post, Bob Hartwig from the III discussed how many insurers view dog breed as they would any other risk factor, like roof slope or distance from the coast.
Cities and states also have varying laws and regulations. Some cities, like Denver, have breed-specific legislation that prevents residents from owning “pit bull-type” dogs. Ohio mandates that residents have a minimum liability policy of $100,000 if the dog is deemed vicious. However, states like Pennsylvania and Maine prohibit insurers from canceling a policy because of a specific breed. It’s important for both insureds and adjusters to understand all local laws and policies regarding dog breeds, especially when a claim has been filed.
Preventing Dog-Related Claims
Ultimately, education and awareness are two of the best preventions of dog bites and dog-related injuries. Children should not be left unsupervised with dogs and should learn how to properly approach dogs. Insurers should also stress to their insured that proper obedience training and socialization are important parts of being a responsible dog owner.