According to new data from insurance experts, liability costs associated with dog bite lawsuits were $412 million in 2009, a 6.4 percent increase from the previous year.
A dog bite report issued last month by the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) found that more than one-third of all homeowner insurance liability claims were due to dog bites. The report’s findings indicate that in 2009, the cost of such claims increased for the fifth year in a row.
I.I.I. found that the average cost of a dog bite claim was $24,840 in 2009, up from $24,461 on average the year before. The increase continues an upward trend that has seen the costs of dog bite lawsuits rise 30% since 2003. The number of claims shot up 4.8% between 2008 and 2009 as well, from 15,823 to 16,586.
Insurance coverage for dog bites can provide compensation for injuries associated with an animal attack, such as medical bills, lost wages, scarring and pain and suffering. The I.I.I.’s report deals only with insurance claims from dog bites, however, many dog owners do not carry insurance coverage, especially in urban areas with higher numbers of rental properties, leaving victims without any source of compensation for irresponsible dog owners’ negligence.
Approximately 4.5 million dog attacks occur annually in the United States, but the majority of these incidents are not reported to local authorities. Mail carriers and delivery people are at a particular risk for animal attacks, with the U.S. Postal Service reporting that employees were injured in 3,423 dog attacks and bites in 2003.
The I.I.I. recommended that the best way to avoid claims was to take steps to prevent your dog from biting someone. A number of preventative steps have been outlined for dog owners by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
- Dog owners should consult with a professional, such as a veterinarian or animal behaviorist, on suitable breeds of dog for your home and neighborhood.
- Prospective owners should spend time with a dog before buying or adopting it and should avoid bringing aggressive dogs into homes with infants or toddlers.
- Have your dog spayed or neutered.
- Prevent children from disturbing a dog that is eating or sleeping, and never leave infants or young children alone with any dog.
- Socialize your dog so that it knows how to behave around other people and animals, and avoid exposing your dog to new situations where you are unsure of its response.
- Play non-aggressive games with your dog, like fetching a ball, as opposed to games that raise its aggressive behavior, like “tug-of-war.”