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image of vet with dogDog bites (and other dog-related injuries) accounted for more than one-third of all Homeowners' insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2015, costing in excess of $570 million, according to the New York City-based Insurance Information Institute and Bloomington, Ill.-based State Farm, the largest writer of Homeowners' insurance in the United States.

An analysis of Homeowners’ insurance data by the institute found that although the number of dog bite claims nationwide decreased 7.2% in 2015, the average cost per claim for the year was up 16%. The average cost paid out for dog bite claims nationwide was $37,214 in 2015, compared with $32,072 in 2014 and $27,862 in 2013.

“The average cost per claim nationally has risen more than 94% from 2003 to 2015, due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which are still on the upswing,” said Loretta Worters, a vice president with the institute.

The study noted that California continued to have the largest number of claims in the United States at 1,684 in 2015, a decrease from 1,867 in 2014. Illinois had the second highest number of claims at 931. Arizona had only the ninth largest number of claims at 393; however, it registered the highest average cost per claim of the 10 states with the most claims: a staggering $56,654.

Top 10 states for dog-bite claims

image of dog bite claims

Includes other dog-related injuries. Source: Insurance Information Institute and State Farm.

The trend in higher costs per claim is attributable not simply to dog bites but also to dogs knocking down children, cyclists, and the elderly, for example, all of which can result in fractures and other blunt force trauma injuries that impact the potential severity of the losses, Worters explained. Another factor might be the surge in U.S. Post Office worker attacks, many of which take place at the customer’s door.

Be a responsible dog owner

Even normally docile dogs may bite when they’re frightened or when defending their puppies, owners or food, Worters points out. However, the best way to protect yourself from liability is to prevent your dog from biting anyone in the first place. Dogs are only as good as their owners, and the most dangerous dogs are those that fall victim to human shortcomings such as poor training, irresponsible ownership and breeding practices that foster viciousness.

“The majority of dog bites come from dogs we already know, and the largest groups are children and the elderly,” said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a veterinary professor at Texas A&M University, and executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

“Dogs not raised with good social skills can become dogs that bite. It is important to socialize your dog, and see how the dog interacts with people,” said Beaver. “Owners need to be able to read their dogs’ body language. Don’t assume that a dog won’t bite.” She noted that children and dogs should never ever be left together unsupervised. “Not only can the child get hurt, but so does the dog because they are the ones that get put down.” 

Posted 3:07 PM

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