A Dog Helps Make a House a Home, But It Adds Liability, Too

A Dog Helps Make a House a Home, But It Adds Liability, TooAmong the many unheralded benefits of homeownership is the right to have whatever kind of dog you choose. No one can tell you your dog is unwelcome — that it’s too big, or too this or that.

But with that right come responsibilities, such as making sure your treasured pet won’t take a bite out of the mail carrier, the plumber, or a neighbor.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year, and nearly 20 percent require medical attention as a result. Children and men are most at risk.

Homeowners’ and renters’ insurance policies typically cover dog-bite liability, offering $100,000 to $500,000 in coverage. If an insurance claim exceeds that limit, however, the dog owner is responsible for damages and other expenses above that amount.

Most insurance companies will insure homeowners with dogs, but once a dog has bitten someone it poses an increased risk. In such cases, the insurance company may charge a higher premium or exclude the dog from coverage altogether. Some companies require dog owners to sign liability waivers for canine bites, and others will cover the pet only if it attends classes aimed at modifying behavior.

ProInsurance, a Bay Area brokerage and insurance partner with Pacific Union, warns that a single lawsuit — even if won — can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. And the greater a person’s assets, the more potentially is at risk. The personal liability coverage available through a standard homeowners’ or automobile policy may not be enough, so you may want to consider purchasing a personal excess-liability policy.

San Francisco’s Nolo Press offers free advice for dog owners, including articles on topics such as liability insurance for dog owners, a negligent dog owner’s liability, compensating someone bitten by a dog, and a guide to state dog-bite statutes that hold owners to strict liability (California is one of them).

It’s best, of course, to avoid dog-bite liability altogether. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals offers common-sense advice on dog aggression and preventing dog bites, part of an extensive library of helpful articles for dog owners.

(Photo courtesy of Saxcubano, via Flickr.)

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