Dogs make great companions, playmates, and protectors; they also continue to be a problem for insurance companies.
Nearly two million people are bitten by dogs each year with around 800,000 requiring professional medical treatment for their injuries. Each one of these incidents is a potential lawsuit.
Roughly 40% of America's households own dogs and dog biting incidents keep climbing. There are a few factors that contribute to the growing number of dog bite incidents.
- Failure to train by the owners.
- Children and adults who do not know how to behave around dogs.
Many people attempt to handle dogs during sensitive moments, for example: when a dog is trying to eat, or when a dog is visibly scared and may be trying to hide. The dog may not be properly trained to handle these stressful situations and their animal instinct is to bite in order to protect themselves.
In 2013, a study was completed by The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA). They shared information on factors found in a large majority of reported fatalities caused by dog attacks. In most fatal incidents, several of the following factors were involved:
- The victim having no familiarity or relationship with the dog.
- The dog's owner failing to neuter/spay the dog.
- The victim's compromised ability, whether based on age or physical condition, to manage their interactions with the dog.
Insurance is designed to handle accidents, and companies are at a severe disadvantage when policies are asked to respond to losses that are easily avoided. Dog bite claims are problematic because they involve the insured having control over areas such as:
- Their choice to own a dog
- Choosing the particular breed of dog
- How they raise and train their dog
- Being knowledgeable about a dog's temperament and inclination to bite or attack
All of the above elements can contribute to lawsuits.
If you have homeowner's insurance and you own a pet, the liability portion of your policy provides protection for losses arising from pet ownership and dog bites. Not only are you and your household protected, but coverage even extends to another person who may have custody of your pet. However, your policy won't cover businesses that may have custody of your pet, such as kennels, obedience schools, and professional sitters or walking services, they would need to have their own liability coverage.
Owners have a responsibility to raise and handle their dogs in a manner that reduces the chance for a loss. Steps to take include becoming knowledgeable about their breed of dog and about general principles of ownership and care. They should make certain that family members, social visitors, neighbors, and strangers are protected from the owner's pets.
It is becoming more common for companies to refuse to write coverage for persons who own certain breeds of dogs like: Pit Bulls, Huskies, German Shepherds and Great Danes; due to the severity of damage caused by their bites. It is the responsibility of the insured to confirm that their homeowner's policy does not exclude coverage for specific breeds. By failing to do so, they may have an uncovered loss if their dog were to bite a guest in their home. Owners must take their pet ownership seriously, just like the companies that insure them.
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