There are at least 4.7 million dog bites every year in the US, a figure that is unsubstantiated, being more than 20 years old, which means that it has likely gone up since then. From that total, fortunately only about 800,000 victims receive medical attention annually. The more seriously injured victims generally do not receive compensation, mostly due to the fact that the owner cannot be identified in many cases.
Those that can be held accountable for the actions of their pets will often find they are named in a dog bit lawsuit. The liability segment of the insurance industry only pays an average of 17,500 dog bite victims per year. (This, according to the Insurance Information Institute, Dog Bite Liability, May 2014.) Therefore, it is approximated that payments are made to only 2% of the victims that wind up going to see a doctor for dog bites.
The importance of insurance for dog owners
If you are sued, naturally you’re going to worry about whether or not you have bought enough insurance coverage to pay for the claim. What you need to understand is that the usual $100,000 limit found in homeowner insurance policies usually is enough for most settlements. If however, the injuries are substantial, this simply may not be enough. If that’s the case, you’ll want to have an umbrella policy or excess policy in place. Umbrella and excess policies generally provide $1 million of coverage for about $100 per year.
Keep aggressive dogs at bay
For owners of big dogs, or dogs that show signs of aggression, you’ll need to protect yourself by keeping the dog away from people, especially small children, muzzling it when it is around people, and strictly following all animal control laws (like leash laws, and anti-trespassing laws that apply to dogs and their owners).
If your dog bites someone or causes injury in other ways, you’ll likely find yourself on the receiving end of a dog bite lawsuit and subsequent claim. However, there are measures you can take before things escalate.
First off, be extremely nice and sympathetic to the dog bite victim (and the family), and show concern without necessarily accepting blame. It might also help to offer to pay for any medical services that may be required. Hopefully they’ll see this gesture as coming from someone caring and may not go forward with a claim, but make sure to have the insurance required to deal with any worst-case scenario.