It is absolutely essential for every dog owner to have homeowners insurance or renters insurance, and that the insurance policy does not exclude accidents caused by the dog. Dog owners must review their homeowner and insurance policies to make sure that they have protection against canine-inflicted injuries -- and should not purchase insurance polices that exclude it.

Overview

Without a doubt, dog owners need insurance that will protect them from injuries caused by their dogs. The trend to reduce the availability of canine liability insurance is the biggest issue facing dog owners -- far more important than the threat of breed bans. Insurance for canine inflicted injuries must be made available and affordable to all owners of dogs.

Consider the statistics and you will know why: of the 800,000 annual dog bites that require medical attention in the USA, more than half of the victims are children, and more than half of the child-victims are bitten on the face. The medical costs and other losses stemming from a bite to the face ranges from the tens of thousands of dollars to the hundreds of thousands. Imagine the effect of a $100,000 judgment upon a homeowner: he literally could lose his house. That is why homeowners insurance without protection against dog bites is an illusion. Your house is not fully covered, because with one snap of your dog's jaws, you can lose it -- unless your policy protects you.

Here are the 7 most important provisions we need to see:

 

  • Coverage for canine-inflicted injuries should be offered as part of every policy of homeowner and renter insurance.
  • People who do not own dogs should not have to pay for this coverage.
  • The owners of big dogs should be required to pay higher premiums than the owners of small dogs, because of the greater losses caused by bigger, more powerful dogs.
  • People who own more than one dog should pay more than people who own fewer dogs.
  • The owners of dogs having a history of dangerousness should pay more than the owners of "good" dogs.
  • All dog owners should be required to carry liability insurance.
  • Landlords should be prohibited from renting to uninsured dog owners; for violating this prohibition, the landlord should be automatically liable for injuries inflicted by an uninsured tenant's dogs.

 

Discussion

Look at the statistics: the insurance industry compensates only 16,000 dog bite victims every year despite the fact that at least 800,000 victims are hurt badly enough that they need to see a doctor or go to the hospital. In many cases, the inequitable distribution of the loss is the result of ignorance; the victims are dog lovers and friends, neighbors or family members of the owner of the attacking dog, and in many cases do not seek compensation because of unwarranted fear of "hurting" the dog or its owner. Those fears are unfounded when the case is handled by an attorney with experience in dog bite cases, and the dog owner has insurance. The victims who do seek compensation often do not receive it because the dog owners don't have the insurance, have homeowners insurance or renters insurance that limits the dollar amount of coverage for dog bites or excludes coverage entirely.

 

Because the losses should fall upon the owners of the dogs and not the victims, insurance companies should be required to cover all dog attacks and to offer coverage at a reasonable cost that is affordable to most people. Additionally, dog owners should be required to have the coverage, especially the owners of high-risk dog. Additionally, there should be automatic liability on the dog owner's part when a dog injures a person, and landlords who allow dogs but do not require proof of insurance should be automatically liable when an uninsured tenant's dog injures a person.

 

One should not have to pay for this coverage if he does not own a dog. People who do not own dogs should not have to pay for the damage that is done by dogs; conversely, dog owners should be legally required to have this insurance.

The owners of 5-pound dogs and other small dogs should not have to pay the same amount as the owners of dogs that are big, strong, and capable of being dangerous. There are distinctions among the types of dogs, in that small dogs with small teeth generally are incapable of inflicting the same degree of damage that can be done by big dogs with big teeth. Therefore the cost of this insurance should be more or less "by the pound," meaning the size of the dog.

Those who own one dog should pay less than those who own two, three, four or more. The more dogs you own, the more you should have to pay. It works that way for cars too. And there is an additional reason here: your dogs work in a pack, while your cars do not. In other words, when it comes to having multiple dogs, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole, because dog packs are more dangerous than dogs working alone.

Insurance should be priced appropriately for those who own "high-risk" dogs (meaning the bully breeds, the very large dogs, those having a history of biting people, or which have been declared dangerous by the authorities). The ownership of these dogs is not to be encouraged, and certainly should not be subsidized. However, the losses caused by dog bites should not be borne by the victims and parties like landlords who normally are secondarily responsible. Therefore the policies for "high-risk" dogs should require the payment of premiums that reflect the "actuarial risk" presented by these animals. 

In summary, insurance companies should be required to insure all dogs regardless of breed, and should be required to make canine liability insurance available. However, the premiums should be based upon the size, number and history of a person's dogs, as well as whether the dog is a "high-risk" dog. Dog owners all should have insurance, and should be automatically liable for injuries and harm caused by their dogs. Landlords should be automatically liable if a tenant's dog injures a person, because landlords can help our animal control departments to police the insurance requirements for dog owners. 

The dog owner is responsible for his or her pet's health, which implies that there will be veterinary bills at some point. There are companies that sell policies of "pet insurance" to pay some of these costs. Additionally, some motor vehicle insurers offer coverage for vet bills incurred because of a collision. If you do not save money for emergencies, you should consider purchasing veterinary insurance. 

Policies cost between $300 and $500 per year, and do not cover routine expenses. Nevertheless, many believe they are worth the money because a serious illness or accident can bring thousands of dollars in veterinary bills. If you are inclined to insure against such a loss rather than save for it, pick an insurance policy that suits you best. To do so, start at Pet Insurance Review

There are many who believe that the best practice, however, is to save money rather than buy insurance for pet emergencies. In 2010, Consumer Reports conducted a survey of veterinary insurance policies and concluded they waste money and, worse, are mostly useless because of exclusions. Insurance contracts always exclude one thing or another (for example, health insurance does not cover treatment to minimize the appearance of scars caused by a dog bite). The Consumer Reports survey reported that some of the most serious diseases your dog could get were commonly excluded too. (For more about the survey, read Is Pet Insurance Worth the Cost? by Consumer Reports.)

More information about pet insurance can be found at Complete Guide to Insurance for New Dog Owners on Insurance.com. The article quotes Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips, the author of dogbitelaw.com, when discussing liability insurance for dog owners. Dog bites are the most important incidents to insurance against, because they can cause losses in the tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars, and because the victim of your dog will most likely be your relative, your friend, or your neighbor. In other words, having liability insurance (homeowners or renters insurance) not only will protect you but also the people in your life. For more, see Overview - Insurance for Dog Owners

It is completely essential that a dog owner have some kind of insurance that will protect him or her against liability if the dog injures a person. There are circumstances, however, where a dog owner may find difficulty obtaining insurance. For example, if a dog is declared dangerous or there is a pending proceeding against the dog, the insurance might be suspended or cancelled. Here is what to do if that happens:

First, check whether you have the right to appeal, under the law that was used to declare the dog to be dangerous. An attorney might well be necessary for this. Do this very, very soon after the decision is announced, because the right to appeal lasts only for a short time. However, if in doubt, see a lawyer to find out how much time you have.

Second, talk to several or many insurance companies. Keep in mind that there are companies that will write insurance specifically covering canine liability (see Where to get dog owner liability insurance on this page). Perhaps you can supplement your current insurance with a special policy from one of those companies -- in other words, you would end up being insured under both policies at the same time.

Third, if neither your regular insurance company nor another homeowners or renters insurance company will help you, but they do not cancel you, talk to an agent about getting a policy of umbrella insurance that covers what the underlying insurance won't cover. It is essential that the umbrella provides coverage for gaps in the underlying policy's scope of coverage. Make sure your agent knows that you need the umbrella policy to protect you against canine liability and that your underlying policy has been suspended or that canine liability coverage has been excluded from the underlying policy.

Fourth, if you can't get insurance at all, even canine liability insurance, then you have to give up the dog to a rescue organization, a relative, or a shelter (where it might be adopted-out or even put down). Attorney Kenneth Phillips cannot recommend that you allow yourself to be uninsured because of the dog. A dog must not leave you in total jeopardy, financially speaking. However, if you give up the dog to any third party, you must disclose the fact that the dog has a history of dangerousness and any official orders pertaining to the dog. If you give away a dog that is dangerous, without fully disclosing the danger, you may be held liable for not only full compensation of a future victim, but also punitive damages.

There are many things to consider when purchasing an insurance policy, such as how much you need and what it will cost. For comprehensive general information, see Insure.Com - The Insurance Website. When it comes to owning a dog, you also must make sure that your homeowners or renters insurance policy does NOT --

  • Exclude dog bites.
  • Exclude your breed of dog.
  • Limit the number of times the policy will pay for dog bites. 
  • Limit the amount of money that the company will pay if the accident is caused by your dog (in other words, a specific limitation which is lower than the general limit of the policy). 
  • Exclude some of the people living at the insured residence.
  • Cover accidents that happen only at the insured residence. 

The amount of coverage that you purchase should be determined by considering two factors:

  • The amount that will actually protect you and your assets if your dog bites a person. A limit of $300,000.00 or more is recommended for all medium and large dogs. Anything less than $100,000.00 will NOT protect you if a child is bitten in the face.
  • The amount that might be required by law. Under certain circumstances, you might be required to purchase insurance in order to keep your dog, such as when your dog is declared dangerous or vicious. Similarly, there are cities and states that require proof of insurance as a condition of keeping all dogs or certain breeds of dog. Find out what the minimum is and then purchase at least that amount (but not less than $100,000 for a small dog or $300,000 for medium or large dogs).

You also should purchase an "umbrella" policy. It will provide higher limits (usually $1 million) and should cover accidents that are excluded by your homeowners or renters policy. The key things to look out for are --

  • Does it "follow form"? In other words, does it limit coverage to the same accidents as your homeowners or renters policy? You want an umbrella policy that does NOT "follow form."
  • Does it contain exclusions or limitations similar to the ones described above? You do NOT want the same exclusions or limitations.

Every dog owner must have adequate insurance coverage for accidents that his dog might cause. The size, history and temperament of the dog do not provide exceptions to this rule because even a small dog can leave a permanent scar on the face of a small child. If that child is related to the dog owner and there is no insurance or an inadequate amount of insurance, the accident can destroy a family. Many people who have homeowners insurance or renters insurance are adequately covered, but a huge number are not, because there are policies that exclude accidents involving all animals, all dogs or certain breeds of dog, and there are other polices that impose a lower limit of coverage -- for example, a policy with a $300,000 limit for personal injuries might have a $25,000 limit if the injuries are caused by a dog or other animal. 

Every dog owner has to make sure his insurance covers accidents caused by his dog and provides limits that are high enough. There should be at least $100,000 for liability plus $1,000 for no-fault medical payments, but it is better to have at least $300,000 plus $5,000. This can be accomplished with one single policy or a combination of policies. The primary policy can be a homeowners, renters or canine liability policy, and the secondary policy can be an umbrella policy, excess policy or (rarely) both. 

Here are guidelines:

  • If you cannot get a homeowners (renters) policy, get a canine liability policy. 
  • If your homeowners (renters) policy does NOT cover accidents caused by dogs, get (a) an umbrella policy because such policies fill the gaps in the homeowners (renters) policy, or (b) a canine liability policy because it covers accidents caused by dogs. When considering an umbrella policy, however, confirm that it provides coverage for an accident caused by your dog because some umbrellas do not. 
  • If you want an umbrella policy but cannot get one with coverage for accidents caused by dogs, get a canine liability policy.
  • If your homeowners (renters) policy DOES cover accidents caused by dogs, but the limit of liability coverage is not high enough, get an umbrella policy or at least an excess policy. It is very inexpensive for even $1 million in coverage. 
  • If your umbrella policy does NOT provide enough coverage, supplement it with an excess policy. 

Canine liability coverage is available from the following companies. The descriptions here have been included for free as a service to the public, and are by the companies themselves, without verification. Mr. Phillips does not endorse or recommend any one company, and does not receive anything of value for listing them here.  

Federation of Insured Dog Owners

The Federation of Insured Dog Owners (F.I.D.O.) is a new organization that was launched to offer Covered Canine Liability Insurance Policies for ANY breed of dog. The developers of F.I.D.O. and its unique policy realized a much-needed niche market for a product that provides valuable liability coverage for pet owners at an affordable price.

F.I.D.O.'s Covered Canine Liability Insurance Policy will cover ANY breed of dog and protect pet owners should their dog's bite cause bodily injury. Policies start as low as $75 per year, per dog (plus an annual membership fee to The Federation of Insured Dog Owners) making it unique by offering more coverage than other policies and at a reasonable price. Because any dog can bite and cause injury, most housing communities (apartments, condos, etc.) have provisions for how a dog is to be maintained and insured. F.I.D.O.'s value extends beyond the affordable price by covering any breeds like Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds and Doberman pinschers, to name a few. The policies are available throughout the USA. 

Einhorn Insurance Agency

Most insurance companies will not offer a home, condo, renter, liability or umbrella policy if you own a dog found on their "dangerous" breed list. The "usual suspects" on this list (which vary by insurance company) are Pit Bulls, Staffordshire Terriers, Dobermans, Rottweilers, German Shepherds, Chows, Presa Canarios, Akitas, Great Danes, Bull Terriers, Wolf/Wolf Hybrids or any mix of these breeds. Many owners are faced with the following choices: move, find a new home for their beloved family member or try to find an insurance policy that covers their dog.

Even if a dog has a history of aggression, we can help. Our liability policies can meet landlord and Animal Control requirements by adding these entities as an ADDITIONAL INSURED. If your dog has an incident with aggression, they may be placed in quarantine by your local Animal Control. To get your dog home where they belong, Animal Control has a list of conditions you may need to meet. A common condition is for the pet owner to provide a Certificate of Insurance showing $100,000 of liability coverage, the wording "DANGEROUS DOG," and Animal Control listed as an Additional Insured on the policy.

Einhorn Insurance provides home, renter, condo and liability insurance regardless of your dog's breed. As proud Pit Bull owners, we could not imagine having to part with our loyal companion, Bernice. We help keep families together and sympathize with the unfair discrimination that other responsible dog owners face.

Lester Kalmanson Agency, Inc. 

Kalmanson can sell insurance throughout the United States. If your homeowner insurance company is threatening to drop you or exclude dog liability from your homeowner policy, Kalmanson might help you in one of two ways, either by writing a new homeowner policy for you that also covers dog liability, or writing a dog liability policy that you can take to your existing homeowner insurance company, which will assure them that they will not be responsible for your dog(s) anymore.

Kalmanson writes a specific policy for each insured -- it is not a form policy.  The rates vary like the policy itself. If your dog is powerful and is on the CDC list of dogs that bite, but your dog has not bitten anyone, then expect to pay under $1,000.00 per year for coverage up to $100,000.00, with a deductible of $1,500.00. This will protect you when your dogs are on your premises; the policy language must be consulted for attacks off your premises. The cost is not much greater for two dogs -- you probably will not have to pay double for two. If your dog has bitten someone and is on the CDC list, then expect to pay more than $1,000.00 per year, if you can get insurance at all. 

Evolution Insurance Brokers

Also doing business as XINSURANCE.com, Evolution (EIB) is owned by Prime Insurance Company and it offers coverage nationwide. Direct Insureds, agents, and brokers can access the program. We customize coverage for each animal/insured, even with a bite history. Animal Liability is a GROWING market. Many traditional policies now exclude coverage and some carriers will NOT write your homeowners or renters insurance with animals. Feel free to ask us about our free policy review, where we can help point out gaps and exclusions in your current policies to ensure you are protected at home, work, and play.

Our policy can extend to personal liability, commercial liability, and even off-duty police dogs when excluded from the municipalities coverage and landlord protection for tenants with dogs. We offer customizations of our manuscript policy form to meet each insureds needs. Coverage starts as low as $350.00 plus fee and tax, at a base limit of $100,000 in most cases. Rating is based on breed, weight, State, history and other underwriting factors. Can quote any liability within 24 hours. Can also issue Lloyd's paper in all 50 States.

InsureMyK9.com

InsureMyK9.com offers liability insurance for every breed of dog, even dogs that have a bite history. Many apartments and rentals now require canine insurance, and many homeowner’s policies do not cover certain breeds of dogs. InsureMyK9.com can assist with this so that owners can keep their pet. Rates start under $10 a month and coverage amounts range between $10,000 and $300,000. The price of the policy depends on the breed, weight, bite history, and other factors, but in most all cases InsureMyK9 can still provide your pet with coverage. Deductibles are anywhere from $250 to $2,500 depending on the type of policy and type of claim.

Dog liability insurance protects you from financial responsibilities if your dog injures a person or causes property damage. There are many breeds of dogs that are considered aggressive by nature, but all dogs have the potential to cause harm unintentionally. Canine liability Insurance covers you 24 hours a day. It isn't just for aggressive dogs; your dog's leash could trip someone causing them to fall and bump their head or break a bone. We provide a FREE quote - just go to the website and click on "GET A FREE QUOTE."

The Insurance Information Institute reports that about a third of all homeowner claims involve dog bites. Insurance companies are now pursuing a strategy to avoid paying these claims. The companies either refrain from selling insurance to households with dogs, refrain from selling insurance to people who have certain breeds of dogs, or exclude dog bites from coverage.

Some companies sell insurance to owners of disfavored dogs, but at a higher price. Still others 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. (To learn more about the dog bite epidemic through the eyes of the insurance industry, read the very informative article entitled "Dog Bite Liability" by the Insurance Information Institute.)

This alarming trend hurts dog owners, dog bite victims, health insurance companies and society at large:

  • Dog owners who do not have insurance for dog bites can lose their homes, their assets and their income as a result of a single dog bite incident, unless they are insured for it. Although many, many dog bites do not result in serious injury, the sad fact is that a significant number cause devastating scars and disfigurement.
  • Dog bite victims certainly deserve to receive payment for their serious losses, but if dog owners are not insured and do not have assets or income, then there is no way that the victim can recover. 
  • Society always pays the price of uncompensated, uninsured losses because the community ends up paying the medical bills, the state pays disability and unemployment benefits, and welfare pays the rest. This might result in the government taking action that might not be in the best interest of dog owners, namely banning certain breeds of dogs, or making it illegal to not have dog bite insurance.

One of the issues most threatening to dog owners is the denial of insurance coverage. If the insurance industry excludes dogs from homeowner policies and won't sell dog owners a canine liability policy, then the homes of dog owners are at risk, along with their financial futures.

In this country the insurance industry plays the important role of spreading the risks. The industry backs up many of the civil rights of little people, who are subject to liability for a number of things, such as driving cars and yes, owning dogs. Were it not for insurance, we could not do all of those things and, at the same time, enjoy the benefit of our laws that permit victims to be compensated.

So the insurance industry, by denying insurance to dog owners, is placing them at risk and infringing on their right to own dogs. At the same time, the denial puts the burden of many dog bites on the victims who are already suffering. It makes no sense to deny coverage, and dog owners must speak out against it.

It should be illegal for insurance companies to refuse to insure certain breeds. Dog owners need the protect that insurance provides, and dog bite victims need compensation for all the things that are inflicted on them and taken away from them. The insurance industry compensates only 16,000 dog bite victims every year despite the fact that at least 800,000 victims are hurt badly enough that they need to see a doctor or go to the hospital. In many cases, the victims are dog lovers and friends, neighbors or family members of the owner of the attacking dog. These victims often take no action because they are unnecessarily afraid of "hurting" the dog or the dog owner. Those fears are unfounded when the case is handled by an attorney with experience in dog bite cases, and the dog owner has insurance. More to the point, the victims who seek compensation are often unsuccessful because the dog owners don't have the insurance. Sometimes the dog owners have homeowners insurance or renters insurance but the coverage for dog bites is either limited in dollar amount or excluded entirely. This hurts victims the most, which is why insurance companies should be required to cover these attacks and provide the coverage at a reasonable cost that is affordable to most people.

The insurance industry is also engaging in the controversial and probably ineffective practice of "breed bans." Read about Breed specific laws.

Renting

Suppose the potentially liable person is someone who was renting a room or a garage at the insured residence? The commonly used form provided by Insurance Services Office provides coverage if the rental did not exceed 90 days in the 12 months prior to the accident. Otherwise, there may not be coverage.

Operating a business

What if the liable person was operating a business at the residence? Examples might include a daycare or a small rodeo. The commonly used forms exclude injuries arising out of or in connection with a business of the liable person, no matter where it is conducted.

However, the courts have placed limits on this exclusion. A case in California, for example, held that the homeowner policy provided coverage even though the homeowner was operating a daycare and the victim was a child at the daycare center, because the child was injured when he fell into a pool, and the pool itself had nothing to do with the daycare center.

The same reasoning would apply to the family dog: even though the child bitten by the dog was at the house for daycare, the dog had nothing to do with the business and therefore the exclusion would not apply.

When a dog bite happens, it is important to identify all of the applicable insurance policies. After doing so, one must confirm that the legally liable people are insured under those policies, and that the dog bite victim is not considered to be an insured under the same policies. 

As shown above, there are different types of insurance that cover various situations, like owning a house, renting an apartment, driving a car, etc. The first step is to identify which type of policy might be involved (there might be more than one). The next step is to review the actual language of the policy.

There are two standard forms of homeowners insurance. One is discussed below. Your policy might or might not have these provisions in it. You have to read your policy or retain an attorney to read it with you and tell you what it means. Your insurance agent or broker might also be able to tell you the broad strokes of the policy, but his job is to sell it, not study it; the policy was written by an attorneys and requires the knowledge of an attorney to interpret it and apply it to any given situation.

One of the standard forms was written by Insurance Services Office, Inc. It defines an "insured" as follows:

"Insured" means you and residents of your household who are:

a. your relatives; or 
b. other persons under the age of 21 and in the care of any person named above."

"You" is defined as the named insured and his or her spouse, if the spouse is a resident of the same household. The following people are considered to be "insured":

  • The named insured and his spouse (i.e., the person whose name is on the policy declarations)
  • Relatives of the named insured or spouse who are residents of his or her household
  • Non-relatives who are (a) residents of the household, (b) under 21, and (c) under the care of the named insured or his spouse, or a relative of either of them who is a resident of his or her house. Examples include a foster child, a child living with a guardian, or a teenager or other child who is living at the house.

The text of the standard policy by Insurance Services Office, Inc. goes on to include the following language pertaining to animals:

With respect to animals..., any person or organization legally responsible for these animals ... which are owned by you or any person included in [the definition given above]. A person or organization using or having custody of these animals or watercraft in the course of a business or without the consent of the owner is not an insured.

If the attacking dog belongs to the insured or any other person defined above, the above quoted language provides coverage for anyone who has custody of the dog. Some examples would include:

  • A pet sitter (but not a paid pet sitter)
  • A dog walker (but not a paid dog walker)
  • A person who, without permission, takes the dog to the beach or a dog park

Being insured under a policy is not always a good thing. A dog bite victim cannot make a liability claim against a policy that insures him. 

There are various types of insurance that might apply to a dog attack:

  • If you own a dog and either own or rent a home, your homeowner or renter insurance policy probably contains "personal liability coverage" (or something similarly worded). This feature normally protects you from having to pay damages to other people for most dog injury claims as well as many other claims, possibly including defamation, a trip-and-fall on your front steps, etc. This type of insurance is referred to as a "homeowners policy," "renters policy" or "condo policy." Each of these is a package insurance policy providing property and liability coverages tailored to the needs of most home owners, condominium owners, and apartment tenants. Various versions are available depending on the type of dwelling insured and the scope of protection to be covered. The different types of insurance for homeowners, condo owners and renters are explained at InvestorGuide.com, Different Types of Homeowner’s Insurance Policies (accessed 5/24/2013). The Insurance Information Institute has posted a sample homeowner policy (referred to as "HO3") that provides the text of the most popular homeowner insurance. 
  • If your dog was in your car when the dog attacked a person, then your automobile policy probably covers the incident. 
  • If you have insurance for rental property, then it most likely covers you against claims for "landlord liability" or "landlord negligence" arising from a dog attack.
  • If your employee was injured on the job, your workers compensation insurance probably protects you. Make sure you talk to a workers compensation attorney if you are told otherwise, because "on the job" is defined very carefully.

The limit of coverage is stated in your policy declarations, which is the personalized page that lists your name and gives monetary information. 

The insurance also provides you with an attorney and pays all court costs if you are sued.

Your insurance policy also probably has "medical payments coverage" (or something similarly worded). This gives you further protection if your dog bites or injuries someone. It pays for that person's medical bills up to a certain limit

Finally, your insurance policy also probably has "property damage coverage" (or something similarly worded). This provides additional coverage for torn clothing, broken glasses and other property damage losses sustained by the victim.

Insurance virtually never covers your liability for injuries that you intentionally cause to another person. However, dog attacks usually are unintentional. Even when they are suspected to be intentional, however, the attorney for the victim normally presents the claim in a manner that will trigger the dog owner's insurance policy, which increases the victim's chance of an insurance recovery.

For more information about renter's insurance, see the list of topics in the second column of RentersInsurance.com. For information about insurance and the terminology used in insurance policies, see the website of The Insurance Information Institute.

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).