Dog bite liability generally falls under the legal concept of “strict liability” in many jurisdictions. This means that a dog owner is liable for any injuries their dog causes, regardless of the owner’s knowledge of the dog’s aggressiveness or previous behavior. Liability insurance covers not only bites but also other injuries that might occur if a dog knocks someone over or causes an accident leading to injury.

In some areas, the law may consider exceptions or mitigating factors, such as whether the victim provoked the dog or was trespassing. Additionally, some U.S. states operate under a “one-bite rule,” which gives a dog one pass for its first bite, provided the owner had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. After the first incident, the owner is aware of the risk and would be strictly liable for subsequent injuries.

Insurance policies often cover dog bite liability, providing financial protection for the owner against claims from bites or other injuries caused by their dog

These policies typically include liability coverage which can help pay for legal defense and settlements. However, insurers may charge higher premiums, exclude certain breeds, or exclude coverage for dogs with a history of aggression.

Dog bite insurance liability overview

Dog bite insurance liability overview

About 65 million U.S. households own dogs, according to the American Pet Products Association’s Pet Owners Survey.

The American Veterinary Medical Association states there are nearly 90 mn dogs living in U.S. households. About 4.5 mn people are bitten by dogs each year, most of them children.

Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability legal expenses, up to the liability limits (typically $100,000 to $300,000). If the claim exceeds the limit, the dog owner is responsible for all damages above that amount, according to Global Pet Insurance Market Review.

Dog bite liability and homeowners insurance

Dog bite liability and homeowners insurance

Some insurance companies refuse coverage to homeowners with breeds deemed dangerous, like pit bulls. Others assess the risk on an individual dog basis, determining if the dog has shown aggressive behavior (see What is the Cost of Pet Insurance).

Certain insurers do not inquire about a homeowner’s dog breed during policy issuance or renewal, nor do they monitor the breeds involved in bite incidents.

Nevertheless, if a dog bites someone, it’s seen as a higher risk, potentially leading insurers to increase premiums, not renew the policy, or exclude the dog from coverage.

To mitigate risks associated with dog bites, some insurers have implemented measures such as requiring dog owners to sign liability waivers or charging higher premiums for owning breeds like pit bulls and Rottweilers.

Others deny coverage altogether to dog owners. Coverage might still be available if the owner demonstrates commitment to reducing risk, for instance, by attending dog behavior modification classes or using restraints like muzzles, chains, or cages.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, several states statutorily prohibit breed specific local ordinances.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic keeping more people at home and an increase in home deliveries, the number of dog bite claims in the United States dropped by 4.6%.

Additionally, a survey from the Insurance Research Council, Consumer Responses to the Pandemic and Implications for Insurance, found that 21% of homeowners reported adopting a dog.

  • Dog owners’ liability: There are three kinds of law that impose liability on owners:
    1) A dog-bite statute: where the dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes without provocation.
    2) The one-bite rule: where the dog owner is responsible for an injury caused by a dog if the owner knew the dog was likely to cause that type of injury—in this case, the victim must prove the owner knew the dog was dangerous.
    3) Negligence laws: where the dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.
  • Criminal penalties: Dog owners could be charged with serious crimes if their dogs attack and severely injure people. In a 2002 California case, a woman and her husband were tried for second-degree murder after their Presa Canario dogs attacked and killed a neighbor. The woman was convicted of second-degree murder and her husband was convicted of involuntary manslaughter. This was only the third time that dog owners were tried for murder in the U.S. The first case was in Kansas in 1997.
Dog-related injury insurance claims

U.S. insurers paid out $1.12 bn in dog-related injury insurance claims in 2023, according to the Insurance Information Institute data.

In addition to the potential for physical or emotional harm, dog bites can be financially costly.

In 2023, the number of dog bite and related injury claims was 19,062, an increase of more than 8% from 2022 and a 110% increase over the past decade, with the total cost of claims at $1.12 bn.

On a positive note, the average cost per claim decreased from $64,555 in 2022 to $58,545 in 2023. California, Florida and Texas had the most claims. Education and training for owners and pets is key to keep everyone safe and healthy (see How Much Does Pet Insurance Cost?).

As the largest property insurer in the country, State Farm is committed to educating people about pet owner responsibility and how to safely interact with dogs. It is important to recognize that any dog, including ones that are in the home, can bite or cause injury.

Homeowners insurance liability claims

  • Liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries cost homeowners insurers $1,116 mn in in 2023.
  • The number of dog bite claims nationwide increased in 2023 to 19,062 from 17,597 in 2022—a 8.3 percent increase, according to an analysis of homeowners insurance claims data.
  • The average cost per claim decreased 9.3 percent in 2023 to $58,545 from $64,555 in 2022. The average cost per claim nationally has risen 82.5% from 2014 to 2023, due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which are trending upwards.
  • By state, California continues to have the largest number of claims in the United States, at 2,104 in 2023, up from 1,954 in 2022. The state with the second highest number of claims was Florida with 1,532. Illinois had the highest average cost per claim at $73,797, followed by Wyoming with an average cost of $73,324.

Every dog has a unique personality and while breed or type may dictate how they look, how a dog reacts isn’t guaranteed by those qualities.

A coalition of veterinarians, animal behavior experts and insurance representatives are urging people to understand the risks dog bites pose to people and other pets, and steps to prevent bites from happening.

Dogs are not just pets; they are beloved members of our households, providing joy, companionship, and comfort in our lives. While the reality is that any dog can bite, most such incidents are preventable.

State and local legislation

State and local legislation

In 29 states, dog owners are liable for injuries their pets cause, with some exceptions such as if the dog was provoked, according to a Triple-I analysis of dog bite laws compiled by the American Property Casualty Insurers Association.

In 17 states and the District of Columbia, liability is not automatically granted but attacks are classified as misdemeanors or, in extreme cases, as felonies, with fines.

There are no laws for dog bites in four states—Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi and North Dakota. With regard to insurance, at least two states, Pennsylvania and Michigan, have laws that prohibit insurers from canceling or denying coverage to the owners of particular dog breeds in some policies.

Some states could exclude coverage after a dog bite, such as Ohio, which also requires owners of dogs that have been classified as vicious to purchase at least $100,000 of liability insurance.

This white paper was presented to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) by animal rights groups. It discusses what they see as the discriminatory impact of the insurance industry’s use of dog breed lists to deny homeowner and renters insurance policy sales, to issue policy non-renewals, and to place limitations on coverage.


Edited & Reviewed by Oleg Parashchak – CEO Finance Media and Beinsure Media by WTW Reports

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