Dog bites are a serious business – not just for the poor victim, but also for the pet owners who might be every bit as innocent as the victim but find themselves facing both anger and potentially, an expensive lawsuit.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog-bite compensation claims in 2009 exceeded $400 million, with the average bite (if there is such a thing) costing around $25,000.

More than 4.5 million of us get bitten every year, of which about 8% end up in the emergency room. Tragically, around 15 or 16 people die each year from bites (the vast majority from male dogs). Half of all dog-bite victims are children under 12 years old, so if you’re a parent, educating your kids about how to behave with animals is an important part of accident prevention. You can get more information on how to do this from the American Humane Society.

How to avoid dog bites

The aim is to avoid the dog becoming excited. Simply don’t approach dogs you don’t know. Don’t try to pet them, and avoid them if they are preoccupied with toys, puppies or another dog. If you talk to them, use a low, quiet voice. If a dog jumps at you, stay still and keep calm.

What to do when someone gets bitten

If a dog bites you or someone you’re with, it’s a serious incident. You should seek medical advice if:

  • You don’t know anything about the animal and its immunization
  • The bite is deep, or on your hands, feet or head.
  • You already have a serious illness or disease.
  • The wound becomes red, infected or swollen.
  • You have not had a tetanus shot in the past five years.

Advice for owners

Claims are mostly covered by homeowners insurance liability policies, although some insurers won’t cover specific breeds – those with a bad reputation for biting. In some cases, it’s possible to buy separate coverage. Make the effort to teach your dog discipline and control, and consider spaying or neutering to improve your dog’s temperament.

In addition to having adequate homeowners liability insurance, you might also consider an Umbrella Liability policy for an added layer of protection.  An typical umbrella policy could provide you and your family an additional $1,000,000 of liability coverage for as little as $15 a month.

Curious about what you can do to prevent 15 common homeowners insurance claims?


A word about cat bites

In some cases, cat bites can be more serious than dog bites. They’re more likely to cause infection, so, again, you should seek medical advice if bitten.