Man’s best friend is sinking its teeth into homeowners insurance costs. Dog bites now account for one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims, costing $356.2 million in 2007, up 10.5 percent from the previous year, according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.).
An analysis of homeowners insurance data by the I.I.I. found that the average cost of dog bite claims increased by 11.5 percent in 2007 (the most recent figures available) to $24,511. Since 2003, the cost of these claims has risen nearly 28 percent. However, the actual number of claims paid by insurers has remained relatively stable over the past three years at about 14,500.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs annually, resulting in an estimated 800,000 injuries that require medical attention. With more than 50 percent of bites occurring on the dog owner’s property, the issue is a major source of concern for insurers.
“While the number of dog bite claims has remained about the same in the last three years, the average cost per claim continues to rise because of increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards which have risen well above inflation in recent years,” said Loretta Worters, vice president of the I.I.I.
Dog Owner Liability
Dog owners are liable for any injuries their pets cause in the following instances: if the owner knew the dog had a tendency to cause that kind of injury; if a state statute makes the owner liable, whether or not the owner knew the dog had a tendency to cause that kind of injury; or if the injury was caused by unreasonable carelessness on the part of the owner.
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 to 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.
“Although some people purchase dogs for the purpose of guarding their homes, deadbolt locks and home security systems are proven burglary deterrents and that will often earn you a discount on your insurance premium,” said Worters.
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If you, or someone you know, has been injured by a dog bite in Irvine or Orange County, please call the dog bite lawyer Jeff Dawson.