Dog bites are the most common homeowners liability insurance claim, leading to billions in dollars of payouts every year. Most dog breeds are covered by a standard homeowners insurance policy, meaning most dog owners shouldn't worry so long as they have a policy. There are some breeds, however, that will not be covered by your policy. In this article we'll discuss what to do if your dog bites someone, as well as how you can get insurance if you have one of the restricted dog breeds.
How Homeowners Insurance Covers Dog Bites
If your dog bites someone and that person sues to reclaim compensation for their medical expenses (or even pain and suffering) the liability portion of your homeowners policy will cover the charges. Generally limits of the liability portion of your policy start at $100,000 but can go up to $1,000,000, depending on what you chose when purchasing the policy. In any event, $100,000 would likely be enough to cover most dog bite injuries, as the III says the average claim amount was $37,214 in 2015. We on the other hand would recommend having at least $300,000 in liability if you own a dog.
While rare, particularly bad dog attacks could mean reconstructive surgery for the person who was bitten. Those surgeries are usually very expensive, and can make claims worth over $200,000. Fortunately, raising the liability portion of your policy is fairly inexpensive. We found raising limits from $100,000 to $500,000 only costs an extra 7% per year. On a $600 per year plan, that is only $42 more per year.
While we recommend having $300,000 in coverage, you should also be realistic with the dog breed you have. If you have a sizeable dog, over 50 pounds, $300,000 should be the minimum, but $500,000 the ideal. If you have a small dog that weighs less than 10 pounds, you may get away with having just $100,000 in coverage.
There is also a portion of your homeowners insurance called 'medical payments' that you may use at your own discretion to pay for other people's medical expenses. Say your friend's child is bitten by your dog. Your friend likely does not want to sue you, but you may feel bad about the medical costs. In this case you can file a claim and use your medical expenses coverage to cover your friend's child's expenses. Limits for medical payments typically range from $1,000 to $10,000, so this may not be enough to cover every expense if it was a particularly bad dog attack.
Another option for dog bite coverage is to get an umbrella liability policy. An umbrella policy is a pure liability type of insurance which you may use any time there is a suit against you—whether it's from a car crash you caused, a fall on your property or a dog bite. Most policies start at $1,000,000 and go up to $10,000,000 or more.
A $1,000,000 umbrella policy can cost between $150 and $300 per year, but you can balance this additional cost by adjusting the liability limits on your other insurance policies. You can reduce your liability limits to whatever minimum your auto, home and umbrella insurers require. At GEICO for example, you need to maintain at least a $100,000/$300,000 liability policy for auto insurance and $300,000 liability on your homeowners policy in order to have an umbrella policy.
This is the best option for dog owners with a lot of assets. Generally, if you add the value of your home, car, investments, bank accounts and other possessions together and get a number higher than $100,000, you should consider an umbrella policy. This may not be a great option, however, if you don't have many assets or it would cost a lot more money to raise your limits in order to qualify for an umbrella policy.
Homeowners Insurance Dog Breed Restrictions
There are certain breeds that make up a disproportionate amount of dog bite claims, making insurance companies less willing to cover any liability issues they cause. The insurance company may completely reject service to you or stipulate in your policy that your dog will not be covered. The following is a list of commonly restricted dog breeds:
- Pit Bulls
- Staffordshire Terriers
- Doberman Pinschers
- German Shepherds
- Great Danes
- Presa Canarios
- Alaskan Malamutes
- Siberian Huskies
What to Do if You Can't Insure Your Dog?
If one company refuses to cover your dog under the homeowners insurance policy, your best option is to shop around. Large companies, like State Farm and Allstate, tend to be more lenient and will accept some more "aggressive" breeds like Pit Bulls. You will need to consult your agent or your policy however because changes are always being made. For example in California, Farmers insurance stopped insuring Pit Bulls, and Wolf-Hybrids because the claims became too costly.
Get Pet Liability Insurance
The sole purpose of pet liability insurance is to provide you coverage if your pet harms another person or damages property. This is different from "pet insurance" which is a form of health care for your pet, and does not cover liability suits. You can get this insurance for any dog breed, but we recommend only getting it if your dog won't be covered in your normal homeowners policy. Pet liability insurance is not very cheap. Below we list some sample rates for different 60 pound male dogs:
|Dog Breed||Annual Rate for $300,000 Liability|
Clearly some dogs tend to cost more to insure than others. Before purchasing a dog, you may want to consider the extra burden in insurance they may bring on. $886 per year for a rottweiler is nearly as costly as a standard auto policy. Other factors like your dog's gender and weight will also impact your rates.
|Dog||$25,000 limits||$100,000 limits||$300,000 limits|
|60 Pound Male German Shepard||$318||$399||$426|
|60 Pound German Shepard/w Children in House||$318||$418||$482|
|100 Pound Male German Shepard||$372||$436||$512|
|100 Pound Female German Shepard||$372||$531||$650|
60 pounds is actually small for a full grown rottweiler that may reach weights of 130 pounds, meaning you will likely be paying over $1,000 in liability insurance for that type of dog. In this case, you may actually be cheaper to get the umbrella policy.
Places You Probably Can't Find Insurance for Certain Breeds of Dog
Lastly, there are some localities (cites, counties, states) that ban certain breeds by law. If you live in any of the following and have of the restricted breeds, do not expect to find an insurer who will take you.
|State||Locality||Restricted Dog Breed|
|Arkansas||Maumelle||Pit Bull, Terrier|
|Colorado||Aurora||Pit Bull, Terrier|
|Colorado||Denver||Pit Bull, Terrier|
|Florida||Miami-Dade County||Pit Bull|
|Iowa||Council Bluffs||Pit Bull, Terrier|
|Iowa||Sioux City||Pit Bull|
|Kansas||Overland Park||Pit Bull, Terrier|
|Kentucky||Union County||Pit Bull, Wolf-Hybrid|
|Maryland||Prince George's County||Pit Bull, Terrier|
|Michigan||Livingston County||Pit Bull, Terrier|
|Michigan||Melvindale||Pit Bull, Terrier|
|Missouri||Kearney||Pit Bull, Terrier|
|Missouri||Springfield||Pit Bull, Terrier|
|Ohio||Garfield Heights||Pit Bull, Terrier|
|Rhode Island||Pawtucket||Pit Bull|
|Tennessee||City ordinances in Tennessee||Pit Bull|
|Tennessee||Sparta (Watertown, Tennessee)||Pit Bull|
|Washington||Enumclaw||Pit Bull, Terrier|
|Washington||Royal City||Pit Bull, Terrier, Rottweiler|
|Washington||Yakima||Pit Bull, Terrier|
|West Virginia||Wheeling||Pit Bull, Terrier|
|Wisconsin||South Milwaukee||Pit Bull, Terrier|