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Insurance and Dog Bites

The old saw in the journalism business is that dog bite stories aren’t news. “Man Bites Dog,” however, is a story. In insurance terms, dog bites are actually a big story — a $400 million story in 2009. Now, granted, records on these kinds of claims have only been kept since 2003, but there’s still enough data to prove that a third of all insurance liability claims filed by homeowners are on account of Rover taking a hunk out of the company.

The average per claim cost of these incidents if $24,840, an increase of 1.5 percent from 2008. According to the Insurance Information Institute, that jump can be attributed to increases in medical costs and bigger settlements awarded by juries. At any rate, we are not talking about minor claims expenses, and more significantly, we’re talking about the kind of incident that — in the absence of getting rid of the animal — will increase an individual policy holder’s risk profile and thus his or her premiums.

If your dog has already done the deed and you’re shopping around for a better insurance rate, talk to animals groups and determine which insurer are going to be most dog friendly. Some companies are more willing to hear an explanation of how the event occurred and give you a second chance if you can show the animal was frightened or provoked and has in the interim received training (or that you have a way to effectively restrain or contain the animal when company is on the property.)

If your pet has misbehaved multiple times, you may have to mitigate your homeowners rate situation by investigating specific dog liability insurance. This will be an added expense for the duration of your dog’s life, but can help to bring your homeowner’s premium back to a reasonable level. (For as callous as it sounds, when your pet dies, inform the insurer that the risk no longer exists, and go after a reduced premium.)

We all love our animals and we all understand that they do not react to situations they do not understand as we would. These incidents will occur. The best policy, especially when young children are present, is simply remove your pet to a contained, quiet area — for the safety and peace of mind of all concerned, including the dog.

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