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According to the most recent figures released by the Insurance Information Institute, $489 million is paid each year by homeowners’ liability companies to settle dog bites. In 2012, dog bite claims exceeded 16,500 – an increase of more than 50 percent since 2003.

Small children are the most frequent victims of dog bites, followed by the elderly and postal carriers.

Kathy Voight, president of Prevent the Bite, reported that dog bites are the ninth leading cause of nonfatal unintentional injuries to children between the ages of 5 and 9. “More than 2 million children are bitten by dogs every year, and most bites are from their own dog or a dog they know well. The majority of bites to smaller children are in their face and head.”

The Insurance Information Institute notes that the most expensive claims involve young children who receive disfiguring injuries that require reconstructive surgery. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, nearly 27,800 reconstructive surgeries due to dog bites took place in 2012.

While most homeowners’ policies insure homes with dogs, some charge higher premiums for homeowners who own breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers. Some insurers deny coverage to owners of certain breeds.

While Emily Patterson, animal welfare scientist for the American Veterinary Medical Association, believes that singling out certain breeds is misguided, she acknowledged that certain dogs, because of their size and strength, can cause greater injury when they do bite.

Homeowners with dogs should educate themselves on preventing dog bites from occurring. Experts agree that no young child should be left alone with any dog, whether their own or a stranger’s. Dogs should be allowed to sniff someone before the individual attempts to pet a dog and dogs should be given “wide berth” when eating, sleeping or protecting puppies.

Insurance experts suggest that dog owning homeowners obtain an umbrella policy of at least $1 million to cover claims that exceed their homeowners’ policy limits. For a dog that has not previously bitten anyone, the coverage is inexpensive and will protect the homeowner’s assets. The cost of buying insurance after a dog has bitten can be prohibitive. Some states define “bite” as causing physical harm even if a dog has not actually bitten someone. For example, if a dog barks at someone and causes the person to trip or fall and injure themselves, that may be considered a bite.

If you or a family member has suffered a dog bite injury, our Columbus Ohio lawyers may be able to help.

“Dogs Put $489M Bite on Home Insurance Industry” Alan Farnham, Good Morning America, May 29, 3013