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When your normally friendly pet bites a neighbor, friend or dog-park stranger, things can spiral out of control quickly. Beyond the immediate terror and applications of first aid, the damage from a serious dog bite can linger for years — especially if you end up on the hook for medical or legal bills.
In most cases, homeowners insurance covers dog bites and can help cut down on the financial impact of your dog’s actions. Your homeowners policy includes personal liability coverage, which pays when someone is injured due to your negligence. Such injuries typically include bites by a dog in your care. The average liability claim for dog bites and other dog-related injuries was about $64,500 in 2022, according to data from the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm.
Can I get dog bite insurance?
There’s technically no such thing as dog bite insurance. Instead — with some exceptions, like medical payments as explained below — dog bites are rolled into personal liability insurance. That means if a dog in your care bites someone and you're found to be at fault, your insurer will generally pay the victim’s medical bills plus any legal expenses, up to the limits of your policy.
The bite doesn’t have to happen at your home, either. While it’s called "homeowners insurance," your home is almost secondary in this case. The real coverage is for your legal liability. Dog bites found to be your fault are usually covered almost anywhere they happen.
The amount of dog bite insurance you have depends on the liability coverage you've chosen for your homeowners insurance policy. Typically, this will be between $100,000 and $500,000.
There are some situations where your insurer won't pay for dog bite injuries. If you set your dog on someone or encourage the dog to bite someone, you won't be covered. If a dog bites someone in a business setting — a dog grooming business you operate out of your garage, for example — your homeowners policy won’t cover it, although business insurance might.
Also, liability insurance is designed to cover injuries to people outside of your household. So if your golden retriever bites you or your child, your homeowners policy wouldn’t pay the resulting medical expenses. (You’d turn to health insurance coverage instead.)
Occasionally, an insurance company won’t cover animal liability unless you’ve specifically added it to your homeowners policy. If you have a pet, check with your insurer to make sure your furry friend is covered.
Liability insurance generally covers injuries to others by cats and other pets, too.
Medical payments coverage for dog bites
Liability insurance is important when your dog seriously injures someone, but sometimes the injury is minor. If a neighbor needs to go to the doctor for a few stitches after a bite, they might not be interested in squeezing every dime they can out of you, especially if it was an accident or their fault.
In those less serious cases, your homeowners insurance medical payments coverage will come into play. This is no-fault insurance, which basically means coverage depends on what happened, not why it happened or who did what. Medical payments coverage usually comes in lower amounts than liability insurance and can be used for smaller medical bills. You can typically choose a limit between $1,000 and $5,000.
Homeowners insurance breed restrictions
While some insurers will cover your home and any dog bites regardless of what kind of dog you have, other insurers won't. These breed restrictions can make it harder to buy home insurance, especially if you own a dog that shows up on dangerous breed lists.
Pit bulls often appear on these lists, even though the term "pit bull" can apply to many dogs of mixed breeding. Other breeds commonly restricted by home insurance companies include Doberman pinschers, Rottweilers, Siberian huskies, German shepherds and wolf hybrids.
Whether an insurance company will cover your dog may depend on where you live, too. Certain states, such as New York and Pennsylvania, have passed laws that ban home insurance companies from denying coverage based on the breed of dog you have.
If your insurer won’t cover your dog because of its breed, you might want additional personal liability insurance. Umbrella insurance may give you the coverage you need.
You could also switch your homeowners insurance to a company that doesn’t care about your dog’s breed. For example, State Farm doesn't look at a dog's breed, but rather at its bite history when deciding whether to provide coverage.
Landlord responsibility for dog bites
Generally, laws hold dog owners responsible for dog bite injuries. However, landlords can be included in personal injury lawsuits if the dog owner doesn’t have enough liability insurance to cover damages or if the landlord is found to be negligent.
As a landlord, you could be sued if you knew there was a dangerous dog on the premises but didn’t act to confine or remove it.
To protect yourself financially, consider requiring your tenants to buy renters liability insurance. That way, they’ll have their own coverage to defend themselves in a lawsuit.
If you learn that one of your tenants has an aggressive dog, you can help reduce the risk of injury by making sure gates and fences are secure and putting up warning signs. Depending on the terms of the lease, you may even be able to evict the tenant. A lawyer can help you figure out your rights.