April 10, 2018 / 7:51 PM / 10 months ago

YOUR MONEY-Get insurance for your dog's bite, as well as its bark

    By Beth Pinsker
    NEW YORK, April 10 (Reuters) - A cute Maltipoo puppy could
never harm anyone, right?
    But looks can be deceiving. Dogs of any size or breed could
inflict serious damage, leading to large insurance claims.
    Over the past 14 years, canine-related injuries - from bites
to accidents caused by dog frights - have caused claims to jump
90 percent, according to an annual survey by the Insurance
Information Institute (III) and State Farm, the largest U.S.
home insurer. Each claim averages $37,051, up from $19,162 in
    Dog bites fall under the liability section of homeowners or
renters insurance policies, which typically provide about
$100,000 in coverage.
    But only about 37 percent of tenants take out a renters
insurance policy, which costs about $20 per month. Many more
incidents go unreported to insurance companies. 
    Inadequate coverage can invite lawsuits. Attorneys like Ken
Phillips, who specializes in dog-related cases, runs a website
for plaintiffs and other lawyers (dogbitelaw.com). He
also sues landlords for tenants without renters insurance.
    Even a simple scare injury can rack up big charges.
    State Farm public affairs specialist Heather Paul's dog ran
out through her open gate and scared an elderly neighbor, who
fell off the curb and broke her ankle. The lady filed an
insurance claim with Paul's carrier, but the standard liability
coverage of $100,000 was not enough for her bone reconstruction.
    Luckily, Paul had an additional umbrella policy, which
kicked in and covered the rest.
    Janet Ruiz, the California representative for the III trade
group, estimated that 50 to 75 percent of people have umbrella
policies, with coverage of $1 million to over $10 million
including auto accident liability. High-net worth families favor
such policies, with up to 79 percent reporting they had coverage
in a 2012, according to the latest white paper on the matter
from insurer ACE Private Risk Services.
    Umbrella insurance usually costs less than $50 a month and
can be as little as $15, depending on your coverage.
    When a dog owner has insurance, especially an umbrella
policy, an injured client tends to settle for the amount
covered, Phillips said.
    Cases can end up in court when a bigger payout is demanded.
Some may involve death, severe mauling and loss of body parts.
    A California woman went through a two-year lawsuit after her
dog got loose and knocked over a postal worker. The dog did not
bite anyone, but the worker claimed damages greater than the
homeowner's policy covered.
    The dog owner, whose pet's mugshot has been posted on a
website, fears that neighbors might target her for more lawsuits
if she is identified. And if the pup gets in any more trouble,
it could be seized and possibly euthanized.  
    This owner said she had no umbrella policy, and now she
cannot get one. Her homeowner's premium has skyrocketed.
    The dog is not insurable for any future liability incidents,
so she took out an outside policy to cover the dog, which cost
$1,500 a year - more than her homeowners and earthquake
    "We can be the most responsible dog owners, but accidents
happen," said Paul. "You just never know."

 (Editing by Lauren Young and Richard Chang)
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