It's estimated that 70 million dogs are owned in the United States and are in approximately 37% of all households.   It's no secret that dogs are man's best friend.  They are a great companion and can provide us with loads of health benefits such as lower blood pressure, less chance of depression and can also boost immunity.  However, along with all the joy a dog can bring, it's a fact that dogs bite and sometimes those bites can be devastating.

Each year in the United States there are about 4.7 million injuries reported due to dog bites.  Fifty percent of the bites happens at the residence where the dog lives.  Is your dog covered under your homeowners liability?  The answer to that question lies within the pages of your homeowners policy but if you are a dog owner, don't assume a dog bite is covered.  

Do Your Homework

The Insurance Services Office (ISO) rolled out a canine exclusion endorsement in the Homeowners 2011 program.  Some insurance companies have adopted this exclusion and other companies have written their policy to give-back or include coverage.  It's a must that dog owners have a conversation with their homeowners insurance agent about animal liability, specifically canine liability.  Never assume it's covered.  The average dog bite claim costs about $24,000 so it's wise to know who will get to pay that bill.  

How Much Is Enough?

How much liability coverage does a dog owner need?  That's impossible to answer but most insurance agents will advise you to purchase as much as you can afford.  Thirty-three percent  of all dollars paid out for homeowners liability claims can be attributed to dog bites.  $412 million was paid by insurance companies for dog bites in 2009.  It's easy to think "this will never happen to me" or "my dog would never bite" but it happens and when it does, it's expensive.    

Since your homeowners policy may or may not cover animal liability the next recommendation would be a personal umbrella policy.  An umbrella policy typically increases the underlying policy limits by $1 million or more and in addition may provide coverage for some claims that the underlying policies do not cover.  Each umbrella policy or excess liability policy is different so it's important to determine if this policy would respond for an animal liability claim.  Umbrella policies are very inexpensive and are highly recommended. 

It's clear by looking at the statistics that dog bites do happen and when they do, they aren't cheap.  Schedule a review of your liability coverage with your insurance agent and know where you stand.  It's always best to find out what you have, or don't have, before an incident rather than after.