Dog Bites: Insurance company’s bark as bad as the bite?

According to the Insurance Information Institute- dog bite claims nationwide accounted for more than 1/3 of home insurance liability claims in 2013 with an average cost of almost $28,000.  Pennsylvania ranks 5th in the nation with 909 dog bite claims averaging over $29,000 each and a total impact of $26.4 million.  Most homeowners, renters, and landlord policies cover liability from a dog bite- consult your policy for any exceptions.

Are you liable for damage or injury when your dog bites someone?  In Pennsylvania the answer is definitively YES- state statute reads as follows:

§ 532. How damages recovered- The owner or owners of any dog or dogs shall be liable for all damages done or caused to be done by any and every such dog or dogs, in an action of trespass vi et armis, in the name of the person or persons injured, to be sued for and recovered before any court or justice of the peace having jurisdiction of the amount so claimed.

Tips to avoid dog bite liability claims:

  • Choose a breed suitable for your circumstances, train and socialize the dog properly to a variety of situations.  Consider consulting a professional before choosing and breed and also for training- and definitely if your dog displays aggressiveness or other undesirable behaviors!
  • Take extraordinary care with children- teach yours to never approach a strange dog or surprise any dog including your own.  Many dog bites occur to small children in the facial area as a result of teasing or bothering a dog. Be cautious when walking your dog in public for children who may not have been properly taught to ask the owner for permission to approach. Never leave a young child alone with a dog.
  • Have your dog spayed or neutered if you do not intend on breeding, studies show that dogs are 3x more likely to bite if they are not neutered.
  • Make sure your dog is kept under your control at all times! Leashes, tethers, fences, and invisible fences are all options.  Pennsylvania state statute requires dogs be under the owners control at all times, and many local communities have enacted “leash laws” in addition.
  • Learn more here

THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICEIf your dog bites someone should you file an insurance claim? As with any claim we encourage clients to think about the possible outcomes before making a knee-jerk response, claims should be made as soon as possible but there is no time requirement to file a claim. Try to ascertain what the damages are, speak with injured party and try to negotiate a favorable outcome for both parties.  If it looks like a serious injury you should contact your insurance company as soon as possible.  Keep in contact with the other party unless they retain a lawyer- at which point you should notify your insurance carrier immediately.

If it becomes an insurance claim here are the likely outcomes:

  • Your insurance company will require you to sign a waiver of future liability coverage involving the dog.
  • Your insurance company will drop your coverage as long as you continue to keep the dog.  This is the more likely scenario, and you will find it next to impossible to obtain new coverage with a dog that has bitten before. If you do find a new policy it will likely exclude liability coverage.

Do everything you can to avoid a dog bite liability claim, as it will likely come down to losing either your dog or your insurance!  If you are in Pennsylvania please contact us for a no-obligation free consultation at 215-340-1888 or

What if you are the victim of a dog bite? Obviously the first thing to do if a dog bite happens to you or your animals is to seek medical treatment.   You should document everything that happened as soon as possible- take photos of injuries and write everything down that you can remember.  If the injury is minor, owner of the attacking dog shows concern and pays for any treatment it is up to you to decide what other action to take.  Here are some other options to consider based upon the circumstances (THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE):

  1. Call the police and have them document the incident, they may file charges against the owner depending on the circumstances.
  2. Ask the owner for their information including insurance company and policy number.  You may have to resort to #1 to get this.

Avoiding dog bites: Never approach a strange dog, and if one approaches you do not make direct eye contact as this can be perceived by the dog as an act of aggression. Do not run from a dog chasing you, stand your ground If you encounter a dogfight and choose to try and help, the best way to separate fighting dogs is to have someone grab the back legs of each and pull them apart- never grab for the collars as this is a sure way to get bitten.  Read more terrific advice here by renowned animal behavior specialist Cesar Milan



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