Spotlight on: Dog bite liability

Overview

About 69 million U.S. households own dogs, according to the American Pet Products Association’s 2021-2022 Pet Owners Survey. The American Veterinary Medical Association states there are nearly 85 million dogs living in U.S. households. About 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, most of them children.

Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability legal expenses, up to the liability limits (typically $100,000 to $300,000). If the claim exceeds the limit, the dog owner is responsible for all damages above that amount.

Dog bite liability and homeowners insurance

Some insurance companies will not insure homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs categorized as dangerous, such as pit bulls. Others decide on a case-by-case basis, depending on whether an individual dog, regardless of its breed has been deemed vicious. Some insurers do not ask the breed of a dog owned when writing or renewing homeowners insurance and do not track the breed of dogs involved in dog bite incidents. However, once a dog has bitten someone, it poses an increased risk. In that instance, the insurance company may charge a higher premium, nonrenew the homeowner’s insurance policy or exclude the dog from coverage.

Some insurers are taking steps to limit their exposure to such losses. Some companies require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, while others charge more for owners of breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers and others are not offering insurance to dog owners at all. Some 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.

Homeowners insurance liability claims

  • Liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries cost homeowners insurers $882 million in in 2021, according to the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I) and State Farm®.
  • The number of dog bite claims nationwide increased in 2021 to 17,989 from 17,597 in 2020—a 2.2 percent increase, according to an analysis of homeowners insurance claims data by the Triple-I.
  • The average cost per claim decreased 1 percent in 2021 to $49,025 from $49,558 in 2020. The average cost per claim nationally has risen 39 percent from 2012 to 2021, due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which are trending upwards.
  • By state, California continues to have the largest number of claims in the United States, at 2,026 in 2021, down from 2,103 in 2020. The state with the second highest number of claims was Florida at 1,478. New York had the highest average cost per claim at $68,203, followed by North Carolina with an average cost of $63,247. The trend in higher costs per claim is attributable not only to dog bites but also to dogs knocking down children, cyclists, the elderly, etc., which can result in injuries that impact the potential severity of the losses

State and local legislation

In 29 states, dog owners are liable for injuries their pets cause, with some exceptions such as if the dog was provoked, according to a Triple-I analysis of dog bite laws compiled by the American Property Casualty Insurers Association as of March 2021. In 17 states and the District of Columbia, liability is not automatically granted but attacks are classified as misdemeanors or, in extreme cases, as felonies, with fines. There are no laws for dog bites in four states—Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi and North Dakota. The NAIC has a white paper which discusses the discriminatory impact of the insurance lists to deny homeowner and renters insurance coverage and renewals, and place limitations on coverage. With regard to insurance, at least two states, Pennsylvania and Michigan, have laws that prohibit insurers from canceling or denying coverage to the owners of particular dog breeds in some policies. Some states could exclude coverage after a dog bite, such as Ohio, which also requires owners of dogs that have been classified as vicious to purchase at least $100,000 of liability insurance.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, several states statutorily prohibit breed specific local ordinances.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic keeping more people at home in 2020 and an increase in home deliveries, the number of dog bite claims in the United States dropped by 4.6 percent from 2019. Additionally, a February 2021 survey from the Insurance Research Council, Consumer Responses to the Pandemic and Implications for Insurance, found that 21 percent of homeowners reported adopting a dog in 2020.

  • Dog owners’ liability: There are three kinds of law that impose liability on owners:
    1) A dog-bite statute: where the dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes without provocation.
    2) The one-bite rule: where the dog owner is responsible for an injury caused by a dog if the owner knew the dog was likely to cause that type of injury—in this case, the victim must prove the owner knew the dog was dangerous.
    3) Negligence laws: where the dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.
  • Criminal penalties: Dog owners could be charged with serious crimes if their dogs attack and severely injure people. In a 2002 California case, a woman and her husband were tried for second-degree murder after their Presa Canario dogs attacked and killed a neighbor. The woman was convicted of second-degree murder and her husband was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. This was only the third time that dog owners were tried for murder in the U.S. The first case was in Kansas in 1997.

Charts

Estimated Number and Cost of Dog Bite Claims, 2012-2021 (1)

 

Year Value of claims
($ millions)
Number of
claims
Average cost
per claim (2)
2012 $489.7 $16,459 $29,752
2013 483.7 17,359 27,862
2014 530.8 16,550 32,072
2015 571.3 15,352 37,214
2016 602.2 18,123 33,230
2017 686.3 18,522 37,051
2018 665.4 17,520 37,981
2019 800.8 18,236 43,912
2020 872.1 17,597 49,558
2021 881.9 17,989 49,025
Percent change, 2020-2021 1.1% 2.2% -1.1%
Percent change, 2012-2021 44.0% 9.0% 39.0%

(1) Includes other dog-related injuries.
(2) Calculated from unrounded data.

Source: Insurance Information Institute, State Farm®.

View Archived Tables

Top 10 States By Estimated Number and Cost of Dog Bite Claims, 2021 (1)

 

Rank State Number of claims Average cost per claim Value of claims ($ millions)
1 California 2,026 $59,561 $120.7
2 Florida 1,478 54,820 81.0
3 Texas 1,003 39,884 40.0
4 New York 900 68,203 61.4
5 Michigan 892 48,258 43.0
6 Illinois 844 56,292 47.5
7 Pennsylvania 777 47,353 36.8
8 Ohio 732 41,499 30.4
9 New Jersey 611 49,981 30.5
10 Arizona 489 43,059 21.1
  Top 10 9,752 $52,543 $512.4
  Other 8,237 $44,860 $369.5
  Total United States 17,989 $49,025 $881.9

(1) Includes other dog-related injuries that have impacted claims such as fractures or other blunt force trauma injuries.

Source: Insurance Information Institute, State Farm®.

View Archived Tables

Number of U.S. Households That Own a Pet, by Type of Animal

(millions)

Pet Number
Dog 69.0
Cat 45.3
Freshwater fish 11.8
Bird 9.9
Small animal 6.2
Reptile 5.7
Horse 3.5
Saltwater fish 2.9

Source: American Pet Products Association's 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey.

View Archived Tables

 

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