Dogs Put $489M Bite on Home Insurance Industry

The first and best way, experts agree, is to prevent bites from happening. All the organizations named in this story provide detailed advice on how to do that, some of it aimed at the pet owner, some at persons coming into contact with a dog. Tips include letting a dog sniff you before trying to pet it, never letting a child approach an unattended dog, and giving an especially wide berth to dogs eating, sleeping or protecting their puppies. A parent should never leave their young child alone with the family dog, let alone with one belonging to a stranger.

Homeowners who have dogs, says Loretta Worters, would be wise to augment their existing coverage with an umbrella policy.

Buying bite-specific coverage for a dog who may already have bitten is not an option, says Worters, because the cost would be prohibitive: "It's like trying to insure a building that's already on fire." In some states, she says, the definition of "bite" does not require that the dog have closed its jaws on anyone. "It's considered a bite even if the dog has not actually bitten: If Little Fluffy barks at an old person, and they trip or fall or break their leg, that's considered a bite, because physical harm results.

We live today, notes Worters, in a litigious society. "I have a little Bichon," she says, "Sasha--Just eight pounds. Still, I have a $1 million liability policy on her. You just never know."

Insurance experts recommend that homeowners get at least a $1 million umbrella policy to cover claims above their policy limits. The coverage is inexpensive and a must for those with assets to protect.

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