Dog Owners… Take the Bite out of your Homeowners Insurance Policy

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Dog Owners… Take the Bite out of your Homeowners Insurance Policy

While homeowners insurance is both mandatory and necessary for anyone owning or renting a home, dog owners often find themselves facing higher premiums, reduced coverage, or even blacklisting by insurance companies… simply because they own man’s best friend.

Your homeowners policy doesn’t just protect you from damage to your home, theft, vandalism, fire, and other mishaps. It also includes liability coverage that protects you against lawsuits from injuries that occur on your property, even those related to your pets. Most homeowners insurance policies will cover dog bites and other incidents, but when your insurance agent discusses your home and potential risks, Fido could lead to a higher premium.

As a dog owner, you are legally responsible when your pet does something that harms another person or pet. This doesn’t just include dog bites. You could still be held responsible if your dog became excited and knocked someone over, injuring them, or scratched them. You might even be responsible if your pet chased someone down the street on their bicycle and caused an accident or injury.

The CDC estimates that about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. One in five or 20% require serious medical attention. As much as you love your dog, your homeowners insurance company may not. Depending on the breed, your choice of a four-legged friend might make it more difficult for you to find affordable coverage, if you can get coverage at all.

Insurance companies may refuse to write coverage for homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs. In some states, they are allowed to “blacklist” certain breeds and consider them uninsurable. This can potentially leave the dog owner liable for medical bills and lawsuits if their dog bites someone.

The following breeds are most often considered “bad breeds” by many insurance companies:

  • Akita
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • Chow Chow
  • Doberman
  • German Shepherd
  • Pit Bull
  • Rottweiler
  • Siberian Husky
  • Wolf Hybrids

Tips to prevent dog bites and other incidents

The best way to help keep your homeowners insurance costs low is by staying claims-free and showing your insurer there’s no reason to worry. This is especially true if you own a dog. Here are some steps to help, courtesy of the American Kennel Club:

  • Socialize your dog early by introducing it to other humans and pups
  • Keep your dog on-leash at all times, even when it’s in the yard
  • Get it vaccinated for rabies
  • Train your dog to “drop” toys so no one has to reach in its mouth
  • Limit tug-of-war and other aggressive games and don’t let them get too heated
  • Be ready to remove your dog from tense situations or when it’s nervous
  • Never leave children alone with your dog
  • Have visitors respect the dog’s space, especially when it’s sleeping, eating, and drinking

Umbrella policy

If you don’t have personal umbrella coverage, this may be the time to get it. Your umbrella insurance policy can come into play if you are found liable and need to pay damages, or if you are sued and need to pay for your legal defense. An umbrella policy only pays once your basic liability limits have been exhausted or the claim is excluded from the basic liability coverage.

The main purpose of your umbrella policy is to protect your assets, including future assets, from an unforeseen event, such as, in this case, a dog bite, in which you are held responsible for damages or bodily injuries. If another party files a lawsuit against you, your umbrella coverage will pay for the damages you’re legally responsible for up to the policy limit. Umbrella insurance covers dog bites under most circumstances

Separate dog liability insurance

Insurance companies typically have the “one-bite rule.” A company will pay for the first occurrence, but will then either cancel the insurance or add a “canine exclusion” after that incident. The next time the dog bites, the owner will have to pay for any injuries or lawsuits out of pocket. If you find yourself without any dog liability coverage, there are independent carriers that offer a separate policy just for your dog. These policies are available with different coverage limits and at varying costs. In the event you are sued, the policy will pay out to cover the claim up to the policy limits. Some reasons to carry a separate dog liability policy:

  • The dog has bitten someone
  • The dog has been declared “dangerous” by a judge or animal control department, meaning you must furnish proof of liability coverage
  • Local law requires owners of certain breeds to have insurance.
  • Your homeowners association or apartment complex requires one.

If you own a dog, or are planning to get one, talk to your independent insurance professional about your homeowners policy and ways to mitigate your risks. It’s always a good idea to review your coverage with an experienced agent who understands your needs and can discuss your options.

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