Overview - Insurance for Dog Owners
Homeowners and renters insurance policies normally provide at least $100,000 in benefits for dog bite victims. Such policies obligate the dog owner's insurance company to pay an appropriate amount of compensation for most accidents caused by dogs. Higher limits are available at a low additional cost. A policy with a limit of $300,000 is appropriate for a household with a medium sized dog. Furthermore, that policy is a requirement for purchasing a personal excess insurance policy, also known as an "umbrella" policy, which can give a dog owner $1 million in coverage for only $150 to $300 per year, which is both ideal and reasonable.
As stated elsewhere on this site, every dog owner is exposed to possible liability for dog bites and other canine-inflicted injuries. Dogs bite at least 4.5 million Americans every year, children are the victims of the most serious attacks, and the annual losses exceed $1 Billion (see Dog Bite Statistics). Because the dog owner's own relatives, friends and neighbors are the most likely victims of a possible dog attack, having insurance means protecting the people who are closest to the dog owner, thereby protecting valuable relationships and ensuring proper treatment of loved ones. For the victim, the existence of these policies means that the dog owner, who frequently is a relative, friend or neighbor, is not going to get "hurt" by a claim for fair compensation following a dog bite injury.
Unfortunately, however, there is no law that requires homeowners and renters insurance policies to provide coverage for injuries, damages and losses inflicted by dogs. Consequently, there are homeowners and renters policies that exclude injuries caused by a dog or any animal. Other policies exclude injuries caused by certain breeds of dog. Furthermore, there are policies that provide inadequate coverage, such as mobile home policies which cover liability for dog bites but only up to $25,000 of the losses (meaning that the dog owner would have to pay anything over the policy limit of $25,000). Traditionally, the minimum limit for personal liability coverage has been $100,000. As stated above, however, a limit of $300,000 is more appropriate for households with medium sized dogs, and the higher limit is a requisite of a person excess policy.
At present, the insurance industry is attempting to sell homeowner insurance policies that exclude dog-inflicted injuries. Some insurance companies refuse to sell homeowner insurance to the owners of breeds of dogs that have a reputation for biting, such as pit bulls, Rottweilers, Akitas and Chow-Chows. Other insurers refuse to sell to anyone who owns any dog whatsoever. (See Breed specific laws, regulations and bans.) An article in the Wall Street Journal summed up the problem this way:
Some big insurers, including Allstate and Farmers Insurance Group, won't cover homes in some states if residents own certain breeds. Others exclude some breeds from liability coverage, or charge extra for it. The so-called vicious-breed lists include German shepherds, Akitas and Siberian huskies, along with Alaskan Malamutes, Chow Chows, Doberman Pinschers, American pit bull terriers and their cousins. (M.P. McQueen, "Snarling at Insurers," Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2006.)
No dog owner should purchase a homeowner policy or renters policy that excludes canine-inflicted injuries, unless he or she buys a supplemental policy that covers them (see Where To Get Dog Owner Liability Insurance). Every dog owner needs to confirm that his homeowner insurance or renters insurance (a) provides coverage for, and does not exclude, injuries inflicted by dogs, and (b) has a limit of at least $100,000 for personal liability ($300,000 for a medium sized dog). To confirm these points, a dog owner must talk to his insurance agent at the very least.
To be absolutely sure that dog bites are not excluded from a policy, one can review the policy language itself, which will have a section entitled "Personal Liability" (or something similar); review the section pertaining to "exclusions" and make sure that there is no excemption for injuries inflicted by dogs or animals in general. To determine the limit under the policy, review the policy "declarations," meaning the page that lists the names of the insureds, the types of coverages, the cost, and the limits. Furthermore, check the "riders" and amendments to the policy. These are those short slips of paper and other notices that insurers send out from time to time. While your policy might provide coverage with adequate limites, one of those pieces of paper might take it all away!
Responsible dog owners, and those who are relatively well-off, frequently purchase insurance with higher limits than $100,000. Given the fact that a dog is most likely to bite someone whom the dog owner loves most, limits of $1 million may be appropriate. An umbrella or excess policy having a $1 million limit is very inexpensive. The Insurance Information Institute advises homeowners to consider purchasing a personal excess liability policy. Also known as an umbrella liability policy, this protects against personal liabilities, such as dog bites, that could impact a substantial portion of a dog owner's assets. (Insurance Information Institute, Lawsuits Can Take a Bite Out of Your Wallet.)
Umbrella liability coverage usually ranges from $1 million to $10 million, and covers broad types of liability. Most insurance companies require minimum amounts of underlying coverage—typically at least $250,000 of protection from your auto policy and $300,000 of protection from your homeowners policy. If you own a boat, you must also have boat insurance with a specified minimum amount of coverage. Personal excess liability insurance is relatively inexpensive. The first $1 million of coverage costs about $150 to $300 per year, the second million about $75, and subsequent increments of $1 million cost about $50 per year.
It should be noted that other types of insurance afford protection to dog owners and/or dog bite victims under certain circumstances. Examples of such policies include automobile liability insurance, which may cover dog bites that happen in a car, landlord insurance that protects the landlord (but not the tenants) from claims that result from the actions of renters' dogs, commericial liability policies for businesses, and workers compensation coverage which may apply to bites that happen "on the job." Some companies even sell dog liability insurance (see Where To Get Dog Owner Liability Insurance).