Dog bites can chew you up

Dog bites can chew you up

“Dopey bit someone?!?” Even though he may usually be gentle, that big, slobbering four-legged goofball of a dog actually might have had a bad day, been provoked or had some other reason to sink his teeth into someone’s hand, arm or leg. More than a third of all homeowner’s liability claims are due to dog bites according to the Insurance Information Institute. About one of every six bites requires medical attention. Though the probability of a bite is low, the cost can be very, very high.

A record 73 million U.S. households have a pet according to research from the American Pet Products Association. In those households, there are 78 million dogs. Even though only one percent of bites require medical care, the cost of a bite can be quite high and the emotional reaction of victims can spur civil litigation. For those who wish to dig deeper into the anatomy of a dog bite insurance claim, PropertyCasualty360 offers guidance in litigating these civil actions.

In 2011, according to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites cost nearly $480 million dollars in claim payments and defense costs. A news release by the institute said the average cost per dog bite claim was $29,396.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 4.5 million dog bites occur in the U.S. each year and that 800,000 require medical attention. In 2012, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reported that 27,000 people had reconstructive surgery as a result of dog bites.

Here are a couple of frequently asked questions about dog bites:

Q: Does your insurance company have to cover you for dog bites?

A: Typically yes, however, some insurance policies exclude coverage for dog bite claims as well as coverage for certain breeds of dogs they consider to be aggressive. We always recommend that customers also purchase excess liability coverage known as umbrella coverage. If the liability payments on your primary policy are $300,000 but the claim is for an amount that is higher, an umbrella policy will help protect your assets (as long as the primary policy covers dog bites).

Q: What can I do to minimize the chances of my dog biting someone?

A: WebMD suggests that training from an early age can minimize biting. Though puppies naturally mouth other pets and owners, yelping like a hurt puppy and stopping play for small time-outs can demonstrate the consequences of hard or persistent biting.

The CDC also suggests the following:

  • work with dog professionals to select a breed that fits well with your household
  • neutering a dog can reduce aggressive behavior
  • never leave infants or young children alone with a dog
  • teach children proper pet etiquette to avoid surprising or threatening a dog

The web site also counsels that a puppy not be taken from its mother any sooner than 10 weeks from birth. Socialization and security within the litter are learned during these first months of life including getting along with others. That goes for time spent with humans, as well, during this formative period. This web site also offers a video entitled “Stop Biting!”

Finally, to avoid being bitten by a dog, the Humane Society of the United States offers these tips:

  • Pay attention to the dog’s body language (e.g. tensed body, pulled back ears, backing away, etc.)
  • Don’t scream or run way. Remaining motionless and avoiding eye contact may let the dog lose interest and not see you as a threat.
  • If a dog does attack, “feed” the dog your jacket, purse or other item you can place between you and the dog.

Dogs are great to have in your life and very, very few create liability claims
for their owners. Nevertheless, be sure you are adequately covered through insurance, get your dog trained, be sure its shots are always current and be aware that biting incidents are highest among children age 5 – 9

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