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Veterinary Forum October 2009 (Vol 26, No 10)

Dog bites cost $387 million in insurance liability claims

    Dog bites account for one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims, costing $387.2 million in 2008, an increase of 8.7% from 2007, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).

    An analysis of homeowners insurance data by the III found that the average cost of dog bite claims was $24,461 in 2008, down slightly from $24,511 in 2007. Since 2003, however, the cost of these claims has risen nearly 28%. Additionally, the number of claims has increased 8.89% to 15,823 in 2008 from 14,531 in 2007.

    More than 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs annually, and nearly 900,000 of those require medical care, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 31,000 Americans needed reconstructive surgery after dogs attacked them in 2006, CDC figures show. With more than 50% of bites occurring on the dog owner's property, the issue is a major concern for insurers.

    There are three kinds of law that impose liability on owners:

    • Dog-bite statute—The dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes, even without provocation.
    • "One-bite" rule—In some states, the owner is not held liable for the first bite the dog inflicts. Once an animal has demonstrated vicious behavior, such as biting or otherwise displaying a "vicious propensity," the owner can be held liable. Some states have moved away from the one-bite rule and hold owners responsible for any injury, regardless of whether the animal has previously bitten someone.
    • Negligence laws—The dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.

    In most states, dog owners are not liable for trespassers who are injured by a dog. A dog owner who is legally responsible for an injury to a person or property may be responsible for reimbursing the injured person for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and property damage.

    "Most dogs are friendly, loving members of the family," said Loretta Worters, vice president of III. "But even docile dogs may bite when they are frightened or protecting their puppies, owners, or food. Ultimately, the responsibility for properly training and controlling a dog rests with the owner."

    Source: Insurance Information Institute

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