Homeowners insurance can cover a dog bite in California. However, it does not always cover one. Some insurance policies require homeowners to opt in to dog bite coverage. Some deny coverage to certain dog breeds. Reviewing the language of your homeowners insurance policy is the best way to see if it covers dog bites. Buying umbrella coverage can work to enhance your existing policy and cover dog bites.
In this article, our California dog bite lawyers explain:
- 1. Does homeowners insurance cover dog bites?
- 1.1. Where should I look in my policy to find out?
- 1.2. What if the bite happened off the property?
- 1.3. Does renter’s insurance cover dog bites?
- 1.4. Do I have enough insurance to cover a dog bite?
- 2. Can my insurance company refuse to cover certain breeds of dogs?
- 2.1. What if my state or town has a law about covering certain dog breeds?
- 2.2. Which insurance companies discriminate against dog breeds?
- 3. How would an umbrella insurance policy work for dog bites?
- 4. What happens if I do not have coverage and my dog bites someone?
1. Does homeowners insurance cover dog bites?
Homeowners insurance can cover dog bites. However, not all homeowner’s insurance policies cover them. Each company has its own way of handling dogs. Many of them require you to opt in to dog bite coverage, often in the form of an insurance rider. This increases the insurance premium. Most homeowner’s insurance policies also have breed restrictions. You should check the details of your particular policy to find out if you are covered. You can also talk to your insurance agent.
Homeowners insurance covers certain damages to your house or property. It also includes liability insurance – a type of third party insurance – to protect you from a lawsuit if someone gets hurt on your premises.
One of the most common ways for visitors to get hurt on your premises is if they get bitten by your dog. Dog bites accounted over one-third of all homeowners liability claim payments in 2017, at nearly $700 million.1
1.1 Where should I look in my policy to find out?
Your homeowners insurance policy will typically list your dog bite coverage in the list of personal liability provisions. This is where you will also find the policy limits and the amount of coverage you have.
If you have insurance coverage for dog bites, but your insurer is refusing to cover the costs of one, it can lead to a bad faith insurance claim.
1.2 What if the bite happened off the property?
Your homeowners insurance should cover dog bites that happen off your property, so long as they were the result of negligence. Again, the specifics of your insurance policy can dictate the answer.
However, most homeowners insurance policies will cover off-property dog bites because they threaten your home. Dog bite victims will look for compensation for their injuries. A good source of compensation for the damages they can recover is in the equity you have put into your home.
1.3 Does renter’s insurance cover dog bites?
Renter’s insurance is similar to homeowners insurance: It can cover dog bites, but you often have to opt in to coverage. Renter’s insurance frequently has lower coverage limits. However, you can often purchase more.
1.4 Do I have enough insurance to cover a dog bite?
Homeowners insurance will only cover damages from a dog bite up to the policy limits. While different insurance policies have different limits, most are around $100,000. Severe dog bites can be fatal, and can cause damages that eclipse that amount. When your insurance coverage runs out, you will be held personally liable for the victim’s injuries.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, the average cost per insurance claim for a dog bite was $39,017 in 2018.2 However, particularly bad dog bites can be far more expensive.3
Dog owners who want to make sure their insurance will cover all of their liability can increase their policy limits. Because large dogs are more likely to cause severe dog bites, increasing policy limits can be wise. People with small dogs can often get by with a standard policy limit.
2. Can my insurance company refuse to cover certain breeds of dogs?
Insurance companies can refuse to cover certain dog breeds. They see these breeds as too dangerous to insure. Some local jurisdictions have regulations in place that expressly enforce these rules or prohibit them. You should check your insurance policy to see if there are any breeds that your insurance company will not cover.
Some of the most common dog breeds that homeowners insurance will not cover are:
- Pit bulls,
- Presa Canarios,
- German Shepherds,
- Great Danes,
- Siberian huskies,
- Doberman Pinschers,
- Alaskan malamutes,
- Chows, and
- Staffordshire terriers.
These breed restrictions make it very important to talk to your insurance agent before getting a dog. You might get a dog only to find that it will not be insured. This can leave you financially vulnerable if your dog bites someone.
If your insurance company refuses to cover your dog because of its breed, you can shop for a different insurer or seek out a special pet liability insurance policy. You can also get an umbrella insurance policy.
2.1 What if my state or town has a law about covering certain dog breeds?
Some states and local jurisdictions have rules about denying insurance coverage for certain dog breeds. Surprisingly, some locales expressly allow it. Others expressly forbid it.
Many cities and towns have statutes or regulations that forbid people from owning certain dog breeds. These statutes often single out pit bulls. If you live in one of these locales, you will struggle to find dog bite insurance if you have a restricted breed. Some insurance companies that ordinarily do not discriminate on a dog’s breed will not cover the dog. Owning one in these locales is an intentional act that could increase your liability if they bite someone.
On the other hand, 2 states have laws that forbid insurance companies from discriminating against certain dog breeds. These 2 states are:
- Pennsylvania, and
If you live in one of these states, your insurance company cannot deny coverage because your dog is a pit bull or other restricted breed.
2.2 Which insurance companies discriminate against dog breeds?
Some insurance companies have a history or reputation of not covering certain dog breeds. Others are more lenient.
The insurance companies that tend to discriminate against certain dog breeds are:
- Farmers, and
The insurance companies that tend not to care about breeds include:
- USAA, and
- State Farm.
These insurance companies are more likely to care if your particular dog has bitten anyone, before. This prior history of aggression is especially important in states that have dog bite statutes that follow the one bite rule. States that put strict liability on the owner can lead to liability claims for even the dog’s first bite.
3. How would an umbrella insurance policy work for dog bites?
An umbrella insurance policy is a pure liability insurance. It covers you from liability for injuries caused by your negligence, no matter how it happened.
Umbrella insurance policies can help cover the costs of a dog bite.
Most umbrella policies have very high policy limits – often starting at $1 million. The premiums for an umbrella policy can be high. However, getting an umbrella policy often lets you lower the liability coverage on your other insurance policies. This can cover some of the costs of having umbrella coverage.
4. What happens if I do not have coverage and my dog bites someone?
If you do not have insurance coverage and your dog bites someone, you will be held personally liable for the costs of the injuries. You will have to pay for the victim’s losses out-of-pocket. Severe dog bites can be financially crippling. They can make you declare bankruptcy.
If the costs of the dog bite are higher than your insurance policy limits, you will be personally liable for whatever is left over.
Example: Bob has a $100,000 homeowners insurance policy limit. His Golden Retriever bites the neighbor’s 5-year-old boy, causing $120,000 in damages. Bob’s insurance will cover the first $100,000. Bob will have to pay to last $20,000.
Call us for help…
Homeowners insurance can be a huge source of protection for dog owners. However, the details of your policy will matter. Contact us today for help understanding what coverage you need and how to get it.
Insurance Journal, “When Dogs Bite: Dog-Related Losses Account for One-Third of Homeowners Liability Claims Costs,” (April 16, 2018).
Insurance Information Institute, “Spotlight on: Dog bite liability.”
See e.g., Natalie Martinez, “Dog Bite Settlement is Largest in Illinois History,” NBC Chicago (July 29, 2013) ($1.125 million settlement for 120-pound dog had history of attacks, and dog bite caused lasting emotional trauma and scarring to teenager), Howard Mintz, “Fatal San Francisco dog maul case back in spotlight,” The Mercury News (November 15, 2015) ($1.5 million award in wrongful death lawsuit after infamous dog attack that killed Diane Whipple).