No matter how well-behaved your dog is, accidents happen. Roughly 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs and nearly 900,000 receive medical attention for dog bites every year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Dog bites can turn pretty expensive, too: the average dog bite claim costs an insurance company around $50,000.
If your dog bites or injures someone on or off your property, you can be sued and required to pay legal and medical costs related to the injury. And if you are not insured, that money has to come out of your pocket.
That’s where liability coverage in homeowners insurance policies can step in, but there are a few caveats to keep in mind.
“When researching homeowners insurance companies, make sure you understand their position on dogs and breeds, as some companies will not insure certain breeds,” says Charlie Wendland, head of claims at Branch Insurance, an insurance technology company based in Ohio. “And make sure you have adequate liability coverage to protect you and your family in the event your dog were to cause a serious injury to someone else.”
Here’s what you need to know before buying homeowners insurance if you own a dog.
Homeowners Insurance and Dog Bites
Homeowners insurance can cover dog bites because dog bites are a type of liability, but it ultimately depends on exclusions in your policy.
“The answer is some companies do and some don’t. Not all insurance providers are created equal when it comes to animal liability,” says Ted Olsen, director of Goosehead Insurance, an independent insurance agency with branches across the U.S. “This is why it’s really important that you have a good agent who you discuss this with.”
Condo and renters policies are similar to homeowners policies in that they too tend to cover expenses associated with dog bites, but you’ll want to ensure your liability limits are high enough.
Personal Liability Coverage and Dog Bites
The liability part of your homeowners insurance policy typically helps cover your legal fees and medical and veterinary expenses resulting from a pet-related injury. If you’re covered, it will only be up to the liability limit listed on your policy.
Check with your insurance agent to be sure your policy provides the necessary coverage and be clear about what your limits are. If a claim exceeds your liability insurance limit, you’ll be responsible for paying all damages above that amount.
Review your policy to make sure that your dog is covered, since insurers often exclude certain breeds considered aggressive.
There isn’t a specific threshold for a liability limit if you own a dog, but if you don’t think your liability limit is high enough, consider purchasing an umbrella policy, or even an excess policy to protect you and your assets. For example, if you own multiple dogs, you may want to increase your coverage since there’s a greater risk of an accident happening.
“For most insurance companies, you do not need to purchase additional insurance if you own a dog, but it’s always a good idea to review this with your insurance company,” says Wedland. “You may also want to discuss adding umbrella coverage if you don’t carry it already.”
When Doesn’t Homeowners Insurance Cover Dog Bites?
Homeowners should know whether their dog is covered under their homeowners insurance. Some policies exclude liability for certain types of dogs or dogs with a history of biting. If that’s the case, the homeowner may need to explore other options, such as a rider or endorsement to the policy or umbrella coverage.
History of Biting
If your dog has a history of biting, you may have to pay a higher homeowners insurance premium and be subject to other coverage limitations. For example, an insurer could grant you homeowners insurance but charge you more for it or exclude your dog from coverage altogether. In the worst-case scenario, the company could refuse to insure your home.
Some insurance companies categorize certain dog breeds as potentially dangerous, and therefore won’t insure homeowners who own those breeds. Dobermans, Rottweilers, English mastiffs and American pit bull terriers are frequently blacklisted breeds that insurers deem too risky to cover or will insure only at a higher premium.
Owning one of these breeds might make your homeowners coverage more expensive or restrictive, but that can vary by company and state. It’s wise to check with an insurance agent whether your dog is covered under your current policy, and what you can do if your dog isn’t.
“Some insurers cover you just like normal if you have a dog, regardless of what dog you have, but those insurance providers are few and far between,” says Olsen. “Most companies do have some type of concern, so make sure to ask about it on the front end.”