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How Much Is That Doggie In The Lawsuit?

Oh Beautiful, For Sprawling Pets

America loves its pets, especially dogs, whose population in U.S. households is estimated at 60 million. While dogs make great companions, playmates, and protectors, they also continue to be a problem for certain dog owners and their insurers. Current statistics indicate that approximately two million people are bitten by dogs each year. Of this total, nearly 800,000 dog bite victims seek medical treatment for their wounds. Each of these incidents are potential lawsuits

Have Teeth, Will Bite

With the continued growth of dog ownership, incidents of bites have also climbed. Besides increased ownership, another factor that contributes to the epidemic of bites is that owners often fail to supervise and train their pets. A third big contributor to the problem is that many persons, especially children, do not know how to behave around dogs. Bites occur when:

* A person stares at a dog, which the animal perceives as a threat or challenge
* People attempt to handle dogs who are trying to eat or are nursing puppies
* Trespassers invade a dog’s territory
* “Rough-housing” with a dog escalates beyond playing

An Issue Of Control

If you look at the situations that surround dog bite incidents, it’s easy to see how they can deteriorate into lawsuits. It is also reasonable that such claims often become the grounds for serious action on the part of insurance companies.

Insurance is still designed to handle accidents, and companies are at a severe disadvantage when policies are asked to respond to losses that have a significant element of control. Dog bite claims involve the insured having control over areas such as:

* Choosing to own a dog
* Choosing the particular breed of dog
* Raising the dog in a certain manner
* Housing the dog in a certain manner
* Exposing the animal to various social situations
* Degree of knowledge of the dog’s temperament and inclination to bite or attack
* All of the above elements can contribute to lawsuits and to action from an insurer.

The “Policy” On Dogs
If you have homeowners insurance and you own a pet, the liability portion of your policy provides protection for liability that arises from pet ownership. In fact, typical coverage is broad enough that; not only are you and your household protected, but even persons who have custody of your pet are also considered insured. There is an exception for certain businesses that, because of their profession and/or expertise, should have their own (business) coverage. Such businesses may include kennels, obedience schools, groomers and professional sitter or walking services.

Minimizing The Problem

Dog owners should have the privilege of owning a pet, but the privilege should be balanced with the safety of other people. Owners have a responsibility to raise and handle their dogs in a manner that reduces the chance for a loss. Steps to take include becoming knowledgeable about their breed of dog and about general principles of ownership and care. They should make certain that family members, social visitors, neighbors and strangers are protected from the owner’s pets. Owners should also take advantage of resources to help them, such as tips from animal shelters, dog ownership clubs, the AKC and a plethora of Internet sources.

Like One Of The Family
Pet owners generally have a very strong emotional bond with their pets. Many owners are often at odds with what they perceive as unfair or arbitrary treatment from insurers who choose to respond so quickly to dog bite claims. Some owners feel that a member of their family is being mistreated. It’s unlikely that many insurers would disagree with these feelings….just as unlikely that they would continue to insure a household where a son or daughter either attacked or bit others.

It may not be the fairest set of circumstances, but more insurers are choosing not to give dogs the benefit of the doubt. It’s becoming more common for companies to refuse to write coverage for persons who own certain breeds of dogs. Therefore, owners must fight this trend by not taking their pet ownership lightly….because insurers aren’t.

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