February 19, 2010

Inside Insurance: Nice puppy?

The Westminster Dog Show recently wrapped up its 2010 event in New York City, and a cute Scottie was the big winner.

That’s one aspect of the Man’s Best Friend story. Here’s another one that’s not so pretty, but a great deal more relevant to you and me than the nation’s most well-known dog show.

This is the dog-bites-man, woman or child story and it happens, believe it or not, to more than 4.7 million people annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

What’s scary is that estimates indicate that 800,000 injuries result in the need for medical attention, and even scarier, more than one-half of these bites occur on the owners’ property.

Dog bite liability can be serious not only for the individual bitten but for the owner of the animal as well. The Insurance Information Institute (III) reports that between 2003 and 2008, the percentage increase was nearly 9 percent for the value of homeowner claims regarding dog bites, going from $324.2 million in 2003 to $387.2 million in 2008.

Yet the number of claims started going down from 2003 with 16,919 to 14,531 in 2007. In 2008, the number of bites went up to 15,823. That resulted in an overall increase of bites by 8.89 percent between 2003 and 2008.

As one might expect, the average cost per claim reported by the III went from $19,162 in 2003 to $24,461 in 2008.

News stories appear to focus on the so-called dangerous dog attacks such as pit bulls but these bites go way beyond one or two breeds.

What homeowners and renters need to know about state laws relating to animal bites is that there are two general categories of legislation in effect. About one-third of the states and the District of Columbia have strict legal liability laws for injuries caused by their dogs. Several states, including Georgia, have a variation of what is known as the “One Free Bite” concept. This generally means the dog owner is responsible for an injury caused by a dog if the owner knew the dog was likely to cause that type of injury — in this case, the victim must prove the owner knew the dog was dangerous. After one bite, the owner’s liability is clear.

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