Over the last decade, the number of insurance claims related to dog bites has basically remained flat. But the amount of money paid out in claims has soared, and last year dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all dollars paid out in homeowners insurance liability claims.
Data from the Insurance Information Institute (III) released in honor of something called National Dog Bite Prevention Week indicates that over the past decade, the number of dog bite claims has drifted from the low 14,000s to the high 16,000s. In 2012, the total stood at 16,459, down from the 2011 tally of 16,695, and also lower than the 2003’s total of 16,919. The low over the past decade occurred in 2005, when 14,295 dog bite claims were recorded.
While the number of dog bite claims has fluctuated a bit up and down, the value of claims has gone in one direction: upward. In the 2012, dog bite claims accounted for $489.7 million, which is more than one-third of all homeowners liability claims paid in the year, according to the III. Compare that to 2003, when there were a few hundred more dog bite claims, and yet the claim payouts totaled $324.2 million. From 2003 to 2012, the value of dog bite claims increased 51%, a rate that far outpaces inflation. The average dog bite claim payout rose from $19,162 in 2003 to $29,752 last year, an increase of 55%.
Insurers take notice of such data, and yes, owning a dog—especially one that has bitten someone—can affect your policy. In general, the fact that you have a dog doesn’t factor into what rate you pay for homeowner’s insurance. But as the New York Times noted, once a dog bite takes place at your home, the insurer could raise the premium or even exclude dog-related injuries from coverage.
Some animal cruelty prevention societies report that homeowners have been denied insurance because they own certain “high-risk” breeds of dogs, including Pit Bulls and Rottweilers. A couple of states outlaw “breed profiling,” but most states allow insurance companies to deny or cancel coverage if a certain breed of dog is living at the home. Earlier this year, for instance, a Colorado woman’s homeowner’s policy was canceled after an insurance agent had stopped by the house to check on a plumbing claim and discovered that a Pit Bull was in residence. The dog wasn’t involved in the claim at all, and had never bitten anyone, the owner said.
Besides the insurance association, another organization heralding last week’s Dog Bite Prevention was the U.S. Postal Service, which highlighted the fact that the most likely groups to be bitten are small children, the elderly, and postal service carriers. The latter obviously represent a much smaller portion of population compared to the other two groups, so mail carriers have a far higher risk than others of being bitten by dogs. The USPS even ranked the worst cities for dog bites on postal carriers: The absolute worst was Los Angeles, where nearly 5,900 carriers were attacked by dogs last year.