Dogs and Homeowners Insurance

When shopping for a homeowner’s insurance policy many questions have to be answered to make sure your risk is covered properly. One of the many questions is do you have a dog? If the answer is yes, the next question is “what kind of dog and does it have a bite history?”  Regardless if there is a bite history or not many home insurance carriers have a growing list of dog breeds they simply will not cover at all, even if your dog is “scared of its own shadow.”  

Why are insurance companies so concerned about dogs?

According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowner’s insurance liability claims paid out in 2010, costing nearly $413 million. The average cost of a dog bite is approximately $26,000 and continues to steadily rise. Not all dog liability claims are caused by bites. In some cases a friendly dog can jump up on a neighbor and knock them down; oftentimes causing an injury and significant medical bills.

Is the dog owner liable?

There are three kids of law that impose liability on dog owners:

  1. Dog-bite statute: The dog owner is automatically liability for any injury or property damage the dog causes, even without provocation.
  2. “One Bite” rule: In some states, the owner is not held liable for the first bite the dog inflicts. Once an animal has demonstrated vicious behavior, such as biting or otherwise displaying a “vicious propensity”, the owner can be held liable. Some states have moved away from the one-bite rule and hold owners responsible for any injury, regardless of whether the animal has previously bitten someone.
  3. Negligence laws: The dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.

Florida’s statute on dog bites (767.04) does not have a one-bite rule. Even though your dog’s never bitten anybody before does not mean that you’re not responsible for the injuries caused by the dog. Florida has a strict liability against dog owners. A dog owner is strictly liable for any of the injuries or death caused by their dog to somebody else.

There are a few exceptions, but for the most part strict liability is the rule. There are two ways in which a dog owner could be found not strictly liable.  First, any damage caused by the dog is going to be reduced by the victim’s own negligence. If the victim antagonized the dog and the dog, for whatever reason, bit that person, a jury can apportion a percentage of fault to the victim. The other way that dog owner can protect themselves from liability is by actually posting a sign that says “bad dog.” If they display the words “bad dog” outside their property then for the most part the owner’s not going to be held strictly liable unless they were independently negligent in causing the injury.

Does your Homeowner’s Insurance Policy Cover Your Dog?

Insurance companies are now pursuing various strategies to reduce these claims. The companies either refrain from selling homeowner’s insurance to households with dogs, refrain from selling homeowners insurance to people who have certain breeds of dogs, or exclude dog bites from coverage. Companies are continuously modifying policy coverage including their list of dangerous breeds. Most insurance policies have an animal liability exclusion which means you are not covered for any dog claim. However, most all homeowner’s policies also allow you to “buy back” this coverage in the form of an endorsement to cover your animal. These endorsements could cost as little as $50 for $25,000 -$50,000 of coverage.

What can you do to protect yourself?

In addition to adding the animal liability endorsement to your homeowners policy there is another option available. A standalone Canine Liability policy is another great solution. Most homeowner’s carriers will not offer more than $50,000 coverage for animal liability. If you own a dog on their dangerous breed list you will not be offered even that coverage. Some advantages to a Canine Liability policy are: 1. It does not involve your homeowner’s insurance   2. All dog breeds are eligible and 3. Coverage’s can be purchased from $25,000 – $1,000,000.  Call you insurance agent today to find out more.

Karen Kirkland
Kirkland Insurance Agency, Inc
2518 Hwy 77 Ste C
Lynn Haven, FL 32444
850-873-9959 – Fax

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