Family Pets Can Be Liabilities

A family pet can be a wonderful addition to most households. But in some instances, the family pet can become a financial nightmare and legal liability for its owner. Some breeds of dogs in particular automatically are either banned from communities or neighborhoods or could result in cancellation of homeowners insurance policies. When a particular breed, such as a pitbull, rightfully or wrongfully becomes notorious for vicious behavior, nearly every homeowners insurance policy will cancel coverage for that home due to the potential for a costly lawsuit or other damages arising from the dog’s behavior.

High Cost of Dog Bite Injuries

Even a relatively  minor bog bite injury that breaks the skin but heals quickly with no health complications can result in a steep financial cost to the dog’s owner. More than a third of all homeowners insurance claims arise from dog bite injuries at an average cost of almost $30,000 for each claim filed. There were more than 360,000 nonfatal dog bite injuries treated by medical professionals in emergency rooms across the United States in 2011, according to the Insurance Information Institute. That number is up from about 312,000 nonfatal dog bite injuries treated in 2007. Children under age 5 and the elderly are most vulnerable to attacks from vicious dogs and are the most likely to wind up being hospitalized after an attack by one or more dogs.

Cost of Lawsuits Can Run High

If a dog attack is particularly vicious and damaging, the owner almost certainly will wind up facing a lawsuit from the victim and his or her family. And judgments can run in the millions of dollars. In one instance, a court in Washington in 2011 awarded a $2.2 million judgment in favor of the victim of an attack in her home by two pitbulls owned by her neighbor.  And insurers in 2012 paid more than $489 million to compensate for damages caused by dog bites. One insurer, State Farm, paid more than $108 million to pay for more than 3,600 dog bite claims during 2012. So owning a dog means ensuring not only is it secured physically but that the owner is protected with insurance coverage to help with any legal liability from the animal’s actions.

Do you have a family member who has been bitten or has had a pet dog bite someone?