While the number of dog bite claims has dipped, the cost of dog bite claims has been growing significantly, new data from the Insurance Information Institute shows. Last year, the number of claims decreased 2.2%, but claim costs grew 32% to a per-claim average of $64,555, Property Casualty 360 recently reported. These claims totaled $1.3 billion in 2022, representing a 28% increase from 2021, the publication noted.
States with the most dog bite claims in 2022 included Florida, with 1,331 claims and a per-claim average of $78,203, and California, which saw 1,954 claims last year at an average of $78,818 each, according to the association.
With more than 65 million U.S. households owning a dog as of 2023, the new claims data “is not surprising at all for numerous reasons,” said Chanon Murphy, Manager, Personal Insurance, Burns & Wilcox, Houston, Texas. Costs are rising across the board, higher-risk dog breeds remain popular, and “America is a very litigious country,” she said. However, contrary to common belief, dog bite coverage under Homeowners Insurance is not a given.
“Homeowners assume dog bites are automatically covered; this is simply untrue,” Murphy said.
In Canada, 35% of households own at least one dog, a number that is also growing. Owners need to be aware of the risks because dog attacks can be fatal or cause life-altering injuries, said Michelle Allemang, Manager, Personal Insurance, Canada, Burns & Wilcox, Vancouver, British Columbia. “When these unfortunate incidents occur, they can cause severe damage,” she said. In both the U.S. and Canada, “You are held liable for the actions of your dog. If you do not have the proper insurance, you could really be on the hook for some significant costs.”
You are held liable for the actions of your dog. If you do not have insurance, you could really be on the hook for some significant payouts. – Michelle Allemang, Manager, Personal Insurance, Canada, Burns & Wilcox
Business owners are also at risk and may or may not have dog bite coverage under their Commercial General Liability (CGL) Insurance, said Ryan Short, Underwriter, Commercial Insurance, Burns & Wilcox, Atlanta, Georgia. “The more and more we incorporate dogs into our daily lives — going to restaurants, breweries, and sports games even — they are just everywhere,” Short said. “With the potential of needing plastic surgery and ongoing medical care, especially if there is nerve damage, these can turn into chronic issues and that is why you see an average dog bite claim of over $60,000.”
Dog bite exclusions increasingly common as claim costs rise
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, over 4.5 million individuals in the U.S. suffer a dog bite each year — at least half of whom are children — and more than 800,000 seek medical attention for a dog bite. In Canada, one study found that dog bite injuries prompted more emergency room visits than ice hockey injuries for kids ages 5 to 9 and more ER visits than trampoline incidents for kids 10 through 14, according to a 2021 report by the University of Calgary.
When a homeowner’s dog bites a guest or other third party — whether the bite occurs in the home or while the dog is outside, being taken for a walk, or elsewhere — the homeowner is likely to face a claim, Murphy said. Homeowners Insurance could cover the injured individual’s medical costs, pain and suffering, loss of income if they are unable to work due to the bite, and more.
“A dog bite, regardless of who is injured, will most likely result in medical payout on Homeowners Insurance coverage, [and will often] escalate to a lawsuit,” she said. With rising defense costs and other expenses, “before a lawsuit is even decided, there are already thousands of dollars spent.”
Homeowners can also be sued when their dog attacks another individual’s pet, Murphy added. “It is important to understand that we are not just seeing dog-to-human bites. There are also dog-on-dog bites that are a factor now,” she said.
A dog bite, regardless of who is injured, will most likely result in medical payout on Homeowners Insurance coverage, [and will often] escalate to a lawsuit. With rising defense costs and other expenses, before a lawsuit is even decided, there are already thousands of dollars spent. – Chanon Murphy, Manager, Personal Insurance