You probably don’t think your dog would ever bite someone, let alone cause a serious injury. But dog bites are more common than you might realize—4.5 million occur every year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And most victims are young children.
Those injuries also have a bigger impact on homeowners insurance than you might realize: The Insurance Information Institute says dog-related claims accounted for more than $600 million in insurance payments in 2016.
(Keep in mind that it’s not just bites that cause injuries. Dogs can knock down pedestrians or cyclists, too, which often leads to severe medical issues as well.)
With those numbers in mind, it’s understandable that insurance companies want to know if you’ve got a dog in your household. Some even will refuse to insure you if you have a specific breed with a reputation for aggressive behavior, regardless of whether your dog has ever bitten someone.
Despite that, you should never hide the fact that you have a dog from your insurance company. If you do, and your dog then causes an injury, your coverage could be invalidated—leaving you on the hook for potentially tens of thousands of dollars or more.
When a bite happens
OK, so your insurance company knows about your dog. But do you have to tell them if the dog bites or injures somebody?
That depends. If it’s a minor incident, you might consider paying out of pocket for any medical expenses in an attempt to avoid the claims process and a potential increase in your premiums. (In some instances, insurance companies will not renew your policy or will exclude your dog from coverage after paying for a dog-related claim.)
However, this might violate your policy, which probably requires you to report changes in your circumstances. If you don’t report a bite, and the dog then bites someone else later, the insurance company might deny you liability coverage for the second incident. Ask us to outline your options.
Another risk is the threat of future claims from the victim. Injuries aren’t always immediately apparent, and complications can arise later. The victim might decide down the road to sue you. And if you’ve waited too long to report the incident to your insurance company, it might be too late to make a claim and receive all the protection your policy was meant to provide—which can include help with attorney fees, medical bills and more.
A $33,000 mistake?
Ask yourself this: How would your budget look if you had an unexpected $33,000 expense? The average claim payment for a dog injury in 2016 was about that amount. And that’s with an insurance company working on behalf of the insured. If you’re on your own, you could wind up paying even more—a lot more.
Our advice? Start with your independent agent and discuss your specific situation. Even if you decide not to file a claim—which is always an option—you’ll get guidance from a professional on our team who can help you assess the risk.
Top image by Flickr user Kenny Louie used under Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike 2.0 license. Image cropped and modified from original.