Your sweet dog would never do anything to hurt anyone — right? But if it harms somebody else, and you don’t have the right kind of insurance, you could feel a big financial bite.
Liability insurance pays for other people’s injuries and damages, up to the policy’s limit, when you or your dog are responsible. You could be on the hook for some or all of their medical bills if you don’t have enough — or any — liability coverage.
The average liability claim for a dog-related injury in 2014 was $32,072, according to the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm. Dog-related injury claims accounted for more than one-third of the money that homeowners insurance companies paid out on liability claims that year.
Homeowners and renters insurance policies include liability protection, and many still cover dogs. But some insurers have gotten skittish. Some charge more to insure certain breeds, such as pit bulls, or ask customers to sign liability waivers for dog bites, the institute says. Some lower the liability limit for dogs or exclude dogs altogether.
How to get you furry friend covered
If your homeowners or renters insurance excludes your dog, you can buy a stand-alone animal liability policy that covers injuries your pet may cause other people. Available limits range from $15,000 to more than $1 million, says Dori Einhorn of the Einhorn Insurance Agency in San Diego, which sells canine liability and other insurance.
The price depends on many factors, including the dog’s size, whether it’s spayed or neutered, whether it has bitten someone and the coverage amount. Annual prices for a small dog can be less than $200 a year for $25,000 of coverage, says Deborah Turner, president of the Dean Insurance Agency in Altamonte Springs, Fla., which sells policies at DogBiteQuote.com. Most dogs are insurable, including pit bulls, she adds.
If your homeowners or renters policy includes your dog, but you want more coverage, you could buy an umbrella liability policy, which kicks in after you reach the limits on your home or auto insurance policies.
Even good doggies need insurance
Many dog bite claims happen because of the situation, not because the dog is vicious, Turner says. “Something happens, and the dog reacts like an animal, not like a furry family member,” she adds.
Einhorn recalls how an elderly woman was scratched when a dog lifted his paw to shake hands. The dog’s nail tore her skin, and the woman wound up in the hospital with a bacterial infection. Her medical expenses topped $80,000. In this case, the dog’s owner had liability coverage, and the insurer paid the bills.
“You can have the nicest dog in the world” and still end up responsible for an injury, Einhorn says.
Follow these tips to make sure you and your dog are covered:
•Check your homeowners or renters insurance policy to see whether the dog is excluded from the liability coverage. Call your insurance company or agent if you’re unsure.
•If your policy excludes the dog, check with other insurance companies to see if they will cover it. Compare quotes.
•Buy a stand-alone dog liability policy if you can’t find affordable coverage for the dog under a homeowners or renters policy. You can insure more than one dog on a policy.
•Teach your dog to be a good citizen. You might be able to persuade an insurer to offer coverage if you can show you’ve taken your pet to obedience classes. Training can also prevent misbehavior that could lead to an injury. Check out the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen program, which awards a certificate you can show the insurance company after your dog goes through training and passes a 10-step standardized test.
Barbara Marquand is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Dog Liability Insurance