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When Your Animal Bites, How Much Are You Liable?

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SELECTIVE INSURANCE (April 11, 2017) – Dog bite prevention week is from April 9 to April 15 this year. It is important to recognize the importance of being a smart pet owner, because the implications from an animal bite can be serious. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that there are 4.5 million dog bites every year in the U.S. Although it’s rash to suggest that we shouldn’t keep dogs and other pets due to this danger, the severity and frequency of dog bites means that this problem cannot be ignored.

Aside from the immediate health hazard and clear moral responsibility if your dog or animal bites someone, it can also constitute a financial liability. You need to know the facts and be adequately prepared for any financial ramifications.

How common and dangerous are dog bites?
There are approximately 90 million dogs owned as pets in the U.S., according to the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.), an information and advocacy group for the insurance sector. By that measure, 4.5 million bites makes for a fairly small risk, all things considered. However, it’s a risk that must be taken seriously.

The biggest danger resulting from dog bites is disease. The CDC lists tetanus, pasteurella bacteria, capnocytophaga bacteria and the MRSA staph infection as the most common hazards. Most can be treated with little ill affect if attended to quickly, and the bacteria may only cause harm if the victim has a weak immune system. By contrast, rabies is rarely passed by dog bites in the U.S. But if someone is bitten by a rabid dog, the result will be fatal if the victim doesn’t get treatment immediately.

What is your liability for animal bites?
According to I.I.I., dog bites and related injuries led to more than 33% of homeowners’ insurance claims dollars paid in 2016. A dog owner’s liability depends on the laws of your state and municipality, which generally fall into three categories:

  1. Negligence laws make dog owners liable if their carelessness in controlling the animal resulted in a bite.
  2. One-bite rule laws apply when an owner knows his or her dog is dangerous due to a previous incident and doesn’t control it.
  3. Dog-bite statutes are broad and dictate that dog owners are responsible for any injury or damage the animal causes – without provocation.

Be aware of all dog-bite laws in your state and city and follow them, keeping your dog from visitors if you know it’s likely to consider them a threat and attack. Do what you can to ensure your dog stays calm and away from troubling encounters.