Many dog owners do not consider the possibility that their friendly Fido could bite a friend, relative, or even a stranger. But dog bites do happen and irresponsible dog owners endanger others and their assets, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.)

For example, State Farm, the largest writer of homeowners insurance in the U.S., paid out more than $109 million as a result of its nearly 3,800 dog bite claims in 2011.

The I.I.I. reports that dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2011, costing nearly $479 million.

An analysis of homeowners insurance data by the I.I.I. found that the average cost paid out to dog bite claims was $29,396 in 2011, up 12.3 percent from $26,166 in 2010. In fact, from 2003 to 2011, the cost of the average dog bite claim increased by 53.4 percent.

These increases can be attributed to higher medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments, and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which have risen well above the rate of inflation in recent years, according to the I.I.I.

Most standard homeowners insurance policies provide policyholders with anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 in dog bite liability coverage. If the claim exceeds those limits, the dog owner is personally responsible for all damages above that amount, including legal expenses.

Most insurers will cover homeowners with dogs. However, once a dog has bitten someone, your insurance company may charge a higher premium or exclude the dog from coverage.

Of course, the best way to protect yourself is to prevent your dog from biting anyone in the first place.

Check out this I.I.I. video for tips on preventing dog bites:

Next week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week so now is a good time to review tips on how to be a responsible dog owner.