News from Mosher:

Dog Bite Liability

Dave Mosher - Sunday, December 12, 2011

There are an estimated 75 million dogs in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control has estimated that nearly 5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Approximately, 1000 people visit hospital emergency rooms each day due to dog bites. Unfortunately, the majority of dog bite victims are children, half of which are bitten in the face. Dog bites account for the fifth most common reason for children visiting hospital emergency rooms.

Although dogs are usually great companions, they can be a major liability issue for homeowners. The Insurance Information Institute reports that dog bites accounted for one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims last year. The total cost of dog bite claims last year was $413 million. The average claim paid to a victim of a bite was $26,166, up 5.3 percent from $24,840 in 2009. The average claim cost has increased 37 percent since 2003, despite a drop in the total number of claims.

The average cost per claim has risen over the last eight years, which can be attributed to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs. Standard homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability up to the personal liability limit of the policy, generally $100,000 or more. If a person is bitten, sues the homeowner and is awarded more than the maximum insurance payout, then the homeowner is personally responsible for paying the remaining amount. Although most dog bites claims are smaller, some can be serious and have large payouts, especially if compensatory damages are awarded and defense costs are involved.

Wisconsin dog bite law provides that the owner of a dog is liable for double the damages if the owner was aware that the dog had previously caused injury. This is much more aggressive compared to other states’ dog injury laws. The immediate focus in every Wisconsin dog bite case is an investigation into the background of the dog and its owner. Wisconsin law has also evolved from one of general negligence (i.e. a dog bite victim used to have to show that the owner was somehow negligent in their control of the dog), to a more strict liability where dog owners are now automatically liable for harm or damage caused by their dogs.

With verdicts like these, having an extra layer of liability protection is a good idea. That is where a personal liability umbrella can be a financial lifesaver. Covering a lot more than just dog bites or injury, adding an extra $1,000,000 or more of liability coverage over your homeowners and auto liability can offer protection that can really help secure your future.

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