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Will your insurance cover you if your dog bites someone?

Here in California, more people are sued over dog bites than in any other state, and by a large margin. If you're a dog owner in the Sunshine state, it is unwise to not know the laws surrounding dog bites and the terms of your insurance policy that may cover damages from a bite.

Typically, it is your homeowner's insurance policy that covers dog bites, but don't just assume that this is the case. Some insurers will refuse to cover certain breeds or certain individual pets that are deemed to be vicious. Dog bite settlements were responsible for over a third of homeowner's insurance payouts in 2015, and many insurers have begun placing restrictions on what they'll cover.

The best place to start is by digging into your insurance policy to get an idea of what exactly your coverages are, and what terms and limits apply to your pet.

Know your dog and know your coverage

Because the settlements for dog bites have been skyrocketing in both frequency and the size of the average settlement, being a responsible dog lover and owner now means doing your homework.

A typical policy will cover a certain amount of legal fees associated with a bite, up to a limit. This limit is typically either $100,000 or $300,000, dependent on the policy. If the costs exceed this threshold, then you as the owner will be held responsible personally for the balance.

Your premiums may also be tied to your specific pet. If your dog has bitten before, it may be possible to gain coverage or continue coverage, but you will probably be faced with higher premiums as a result.

Various insurers handle the issue in different ways. While some may require that you sign a waiver against dog bite coverage, another may require documentation that your pet has completed an approved obedience course that focuses on making the dog safer and less volatile. That is, if the insurer will cover the pet at all -- some may not.

Only by digging into your own policy or shopping around for an acceptable policy will you know if you are covered - and you don't want to wait until it's too late to find out. In California, the average settlement for a dog bite in 2015 was nearly $45,000.

Make a plan before you need one

Making sure that you and your pet have proper coverage is only part of preparing for the worst. To truly have all your bases covered, it is ideal to establish a relationship with a lawyer who understands the local legal system and how dog bite cases are handled. You can get a more personalized understanding of both local laws and your insurance policy, and grab few business cards to put in your purse or wallet.

This way, you'll know exactly whom to call if something terrible does happen. Fortunately, your beautiful puppy friend is just the most adorable thing in the world and would never hurt anyone - but it pays to be prepared.

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Bender & Gritz, APLC
350 10th Avenue, Suite 900
San Diego, CA 92101

Telephone: 619-515-0222
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