News Room

If your dog bites someone, you’ll be held responsible

Columbia, S.C. – March 17, 2011 – South Carolina is home to more than a million dogs, and some of them have made the news already this year for biting. Dog bites are dangerous and they account for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

"Dog bites can be serious and carry significant liability consequences to owners," said Russ Dubisky, executive director of the South Carolina Insurance News Service.

Around 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, and about one in five of those requires medical attention, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. Most at risk of being bitten are children, especially ages 5 to 9; senior citizens; adult males; and people with dogs in their homes, especially multiple dogs.

In South Carolina, a dog’s owner is generally held liable for a bite unless the person bitten provoked the dog or trespassed on the owner’s property. Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability. Most policies provide $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage; anything over that limit must be paid by the dog owner, including legal expenses. In 2009, the average cost per claim for dog bite was $24,840, up more than $5,000 since 2003, an Insurance Information Institute study found.

Once a dog has bitten someone, it poses increased risk. The insurance company may charge a higher premium, decline to renew the policy or exclude the dog from coverage.

There are many things a dog owner can do to prevent biting, according to the CDC and American Veterinary Medical Association:

• Before bringing a dog into your home, consult with a professional about what breeds are best for your household. Dogs with histories of aggression are not suitable around children.
• Get acquainted with the dog before you bring it home. Use caution when bringing a dog into a home with an infant or toddler.
• Spay or neuter your dog to reduce aggressive tendencies.
• Never leave young children alone with a dog.
• Don’t play aggressive games, such as tug of war, with your dog.
• Properly socialize your dog so it feels at ease around other people and animals. Teach the dog submissive behaviors such as rolling over to expose the abdomen and giving up food without growling.
• Train the dog to obey basic commands such as "come," "sit," "stay" and "no."
• Walk and exercise your dog regularly to keep it healthy and provide mental stimulation. Use a leash in public.
• Have regular checkups and have the dog vaccinated against rabies and preventable diseases.

To protect your family:

• Be cautious around strange dogs.
• Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.
• Teach your children to be careful around pets. They should not try to pet strange dogs or pet dogs through fences, and they should ask permission from the dog’s owner before touching a dog.
• Do not disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
• If knocked down by a dog, roll into a ball and lie still.

If someone is bitten by a dog, the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control and the AMVA recommend:

• Wash any wounds with soap and water.
• Call your doctor and follow his recommendations.
• If the dog’s owner is present, request proof of rabies vaccination. Get the owner’s name and contact information.
• Report the bite to your local health department, which may require quarantining or testing of biting animals for rabies.

Remember that there is no such thing as a dog that won’t bite. But with care most dog bites can be prevented.

For more information from the S.C. Insurance News Service, or to schedule an interview, call (803)252-3455.

For 35 years, the South Carolina Insurance News Service, a nonprofit organization, has been providing free insurance information to consumers and the media about property and casualty insurance issues. The News Service is funded by insurance companies doing business in South Carolina.

For more information, contact the South Carolina Insurance News Service at 803-252-3455 or use our contact form.