Liability Claims From Dog Bites Are Increasingly Costly For Insurers

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Liability claims related to dog bites are getting more expensive, according to an analysis of claims data released Wednesday by the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm.

The number of dog-bite claims fell by 1.4 percent last year to 16,459 from 16,695 the year before, but the costs of settling dog-bite claims continued to rise, by 1.2 percent last year.

Dog bites account for one third of all dollars paid by insurers for homeowner liability claims. The average cost of a dog-bite claim was $29,752 last year compared with $29,396 the year before. Rising claim costs almost completely offset a decrease in the number of claims as total claims costs related to dog bites were down 0.2 percent last year over 2011.

The Insurance Information Institute said rising claims costs suggest higher medical costs for the person injured by the dog, and larger settlements, judgments and jury awards to plaintiffs.

In Connecticut, State Farm saw an increase in the number of claims, average price of claims and total cost of claims related to dog bites from 2008 to 2011. The numbers rose from 14 claims totaling $316,998 to 31 claims totaling $1.49 million between 2008 and 2011.

Last year, State Farm paid $628,860 on 17 claims in Connecticut. While State Farm saw a decrease in the total price of claims, number of claims and average price of claims last year compared with 2011, that  is not the case nationally.

State Farm was the fifth largest insurer of homes in Connecticut in 2011 after Liberty Mutual, The Travelers Cos., Chubb Corp. and Allstate Corp., according to data available from the Connecticut Insurance Department.

Nationally, the average dog-bite claims have increased 55.3 percent in 10 years, from $19,162 to $29,752 between 2003 and 2012, according to the institute and State Farm, the largest home insurer in the U.S.

Insurers costs related to dog-bite claims increased 51.4 percent in 10 years, from $324.2 million to $489.7 million between 2003 and 2012, according to the institute and State Farm.

The number of dog bites claims was 16,919 in 2003. The number of claims decreased for two years to a 10-year low of 14,295 in 2005, and claims generally increased, though not every year, through 2011.

The Insurance Information Institute recommends the following:

To reduce the chances of your dog biting someone, consider taking the following steps:

?       Consult with a professional (e.g., veterinarian, animal behaviorist, or responsible breeder) to learn about suitable breeds of dogs for your household and neighborhood.

?          Spend time with a dog before buying or adopting it. Use caution when bringing a dog into a home with an infant or toddler. A dog with a history of aggression is inappropriate in a household with children.

?          Be sensitive to cues that a child is fearful of or apprehensive about a dog and, if so, delay acquiring a dog. Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog.

?          Socialize your dog so it knows how to act with other people and animals.

?          Discourage children from disturbing a dog that is eating or sleeping.

?          Play non-aggressive games with your dog, such as “go fetch.” Playing aggressive games like “tug-of-war” can encourage inappropriate behavior.

?          Avoid exposing your dog to new situations in which you are unsure of its response.

?          Never approach a strange dog and always avoid eye contact with a dog that appears threatening.

?          Immediately seek professional advice from veterinarians, animal behaviorists, or responsible breeders if your dog develops aggressive or undesirable behaviors.

About Matthew Sturdevant

Full-time staff journalist at The Hartford Courant and magazine freelancer with a master's degree in writing from Dartmouth. My work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, Taiwan News, The Baltimore Sun and many other news sources. My blog has been referenced by Politico.com, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the Georgetown Law Library and a number of organizations in healthcare and business. Sturdevant’s blog is "a well-written wealth of ideas," said The Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism, (businessjournalism.org, May 18, 2011). I have experience writing for newspapers, magazines, Web sites and blogs as well as shooting and editing video. I made regular appearances on news-talk radio and on the NBC affiliate station in Corpus Christi, Texas. I made occasional appearances on the Fox affiliate in Connecticut promoting Hartford Courant articles.

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5 thoughts on “Liability Claims From Dog Bites Are Increasingly Costly For Insurers

  1. p hofperson

    at least they are not automatically blaming pits for all the bites. every dog owner needs to make sure their dog is socialized and on leash whenever out of the house.

    1. Steven K

      P. Hofperson.. Thank you for saying that. As I raed the article, I kept waiting for that dreaded line and I am very happy with the Courant for not mentioning it anywhere. We need less ignorance.

  2. DR

    @P. Hoferson. That is true – people need to realize that all dog breeds and all dogs can be dangerous (just like people). However, not all dog bites are the same.

    With respect to pit bulls, only 59% of dog-related deaths are attributable to pit bulls (2005 to 2012) and only 81% were attributable to pit bulls from 2006 to 2008. Pit bulls make up 5% of the US dog population. Pit bulls kill about 18 people per year. About 3/4 of all dog breeds have never killed anyone.

  3. H. Davison

    Thank you for your comment and those numbers are staggering. An adult relative was bitten in the face without provocation by a large pit on a leash. Permanent scars, traumatic brain injury, and PTSD. Still in court since 2009.

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