Homeowners Insurance: Liability for Pet Owners

10 Feb
Home Insurance Liability

The Insurance Information Institute reports that dog bites and other dog related injuries account for roughly 1/3 of all homeowner insurance liability claims and cost more than $530 million a year.

Americans love their pets, according to a recent survey by the American Pet Products Association, roughly 80 million homes have at least one pet. Dogs tend to be the big winner in the pet wars. In 2014, a total of 54 million households in the U.S. had a dog as a pet. While pets are a great comfort to their owners, there can be a downside to pet ownership. If your pet bites or otherwise injuries someone, you could be on the hook for some serious liability damage.

Unfortunately, according to the CDC, dogs bite 4.5 million people every year and roughly 885,000 of those bites require medical attention. Even worse, the Insurance Information Institute reports that dog bites and other dog related injuries account for roughly 1/3 of all homeowner insurance liability claims and cost more than $530 million a year.

Insurance coverage can vary depending on your insurance company and any exclusions that are written into the policy. Knowing where you and your pet stand with your insurance company is key to your financial protection.

Are You Covered?

As a pet owner you are responsible for any injuries that your pet causes. Injuries can range from dog or a cat knocking over or tripping a person to a bite. Regardless of the injury, you or your insurance company will be on the hook for any damages or lawsuit awards.

Laws do vary by state. In some states you may not be responsible for pet injuries unless you were aware that your pet had a tendency to bite. In other states you are liable for all damages regardless of whether you knew or not.

Most standard homeowner policies will cover damages and legal expenses for dog or pet bites but they are subject to the liability policy limits. Anything above your liability policy limits will be your own expense. Most standard homeowner policies come with $100,000 in liability protection, you can up your liability limits but in many cases they are capped at $500,000. Above that limit you may need to consider an umbrella policy.

Pet bites can be expensive. While the medical costs almost always fall below the $100,000 limit, lawsuit awards could easily top that amount depending on the situation.

Insurance companies often put breed exclusions into their policies. This means that if you own a dog breed that is on the exclusion list you will not have any coverage and all expenses will fall to you. Other insurance companies may exclude coverage if your dog has already been involved in a bite incident. It is best to check with your insurance agent or company regarding any breed exclusions before bringing a pet into your home.

Exotic pets, such as large snakes, big game cats or even monkeys are usually not covered by your homeowners policy. You will need to check with your insurer to see if they would extend coverage for this type of pet or if it is possible to buy an additional rider.

Don’t Forget Fido

Injuries or damage to your pet are often not covered by your homeowners insurance. In recent years, some insurance companies have started offering pet insurance that is rolled into their homeowners coverage. The majority of this coverage is limited to $1000-$2000, which will often not be enough in the event of a serious accident.

In most cases your best bet is to purchase a separate pet policy from a pet insurance company. Prices and coverage levels very but as an example, with PetPlan, you can get $8000 in coverage for an 8-year old Labrador Retriever for under $50 a month.
It is important to remember these policies do not offer liability coverage, but will cover the cost of your pet’s injuries up to policy limits.

Protecting your pet, and yourself will pay off big if Fido gets hurt or ends up biting someone.

For questions about your home insurance coverage and pet related coverage, please contact us today!

For additional information, please review the following articles:

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