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My dog Maisie is an angel. The most vicious she gets is when she decides it's time to attack her bacon ball. Her greatest foe is the doorbell.
But just in case a human hand happens to get entangled with the bacon ball mid-chomp or her howls at the door scare someone off the steps and onto the pavement, I make sure to have liability insurance.
All joking aside, liability coverage is a must for any dog owner regardless of the pooch's temperament. If you or your dog is held responsible for injuries to someone else, you’ll have to pay the associated costs — and they can be significant.
Don't get a bite taken out of your wallet
State Farm paid 3,186 dog-related injury claims in 2020, at an average of just under $50,000 per claim, according to data provided by State Farm agency owner Katherine Navarro Wong.
In the event your Fido or Fifi causes one of these claims, your homeowners insurance coverage will likely be your first line of defense. Personal liability is part of a standard home insurance policy, but payout amounts have preset limits and may not be enough to cover what you owe for a claim against you.
"You really should have a liability policy because [a large claim] can break you," Wong says. "Everybody should be checking their homeowners and renters liability limit."
Umbrella insurance for dog owners
The typical homeowners insurance policy includes between $100,000 and $300,000 of liability coverage — and renters insurance often has $100,000 — but you don't want to find out the hard way that this amount isn't enough. If you owe more than your home insurance covers, personal umbrella insurance can make up the difference and ensure you aren't on the hook for thousands of dollars. It costs about $150 to $300 per year for $1 million of coverage, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
A dog bite is far from the only kind of injury that can cost you a ton of money. To understand how an umbrella policy could make all the difference for a dog owner, consider this real-life scenario Wong saw play out last year:
A woman took her son's 7-pound dog for a walk. They crossed paths with an older man walking a dog of his own. The man was startled by the woman’s dog coming toward him, losing his balance and falling backward off a curb.
The man broke his hip, requiring hip replacement surgery and forcing him to live permanently in a long-term health care facility. The man sued the woman walking the dog and won. Because she didn’t have a personal umbrella policy, she had to pay out of pocket for all of the man's expenses that went beyond her homeowners policy's liability limits.
Animal liability insurance
Another option for dog owners is to get a separate animal liability insurance policy. This can be particularly useful when there's a history of aggressive behavior such as dog bites, or your pup belongs to a breed your home insurer refuses to cover.
"If you can cover your dog under home insurance, that's ideal," says Dori Einhorn, owner of Einhorn Insurance Agency, which offers dog liability insurance. "But if you don't have animal liability coverage on your [homeowners] policy, you don't have coverage."
That's where animal liability insurance comes in. It can provide liability coverage for your dog that fills the gap created by exclusions in your homeowners, renters or umbrella policy.
As with other insurance, the cost of animal liability coverage depends on several factors, such as the dog’s breed and weight. Einhorn says that annual premiums from her agency typically range from $400 to $1,200, depending on the dog's history. And if the dog's history is too problematic, even an insurer that specializes in animal liability may refuse to provide coverage.
Einhorn emphasizes that the first step when considering animal liability coverage is to check your home or renters insurance policy to see what type of coverage you already have. Insurers may change which breeds and kinds of incidents aren't covered, and you don't want to wait until it's too late.