Most homeowners’ policies cover dog bites

I’ve got a big friendly dog, but I’ve always worried about what would happen if she bit someone. Am I protected if something like this happens? – Billy S., Noblesville

We all love our pets. They make great family members, playmates and protectors, but they are always causing problems for insurance companies. Almost two million people are bitten by dogs each year with around 800,000 of those folks requiring professional medical treatment for their wounds. Each of these incidents is a potential lawsuit.

A key factor that contributes to these incidents is the failure of dog owners to supervise and train their pets. Another problem is that many people, especially children, do not know how to behave around dogs.

When you own a pet, you have a responsibility to raise and handle your pet in a manner that reduces the chances of an incident. Steps to take include researching your breed and general principles of ownership and care. You should always make certain that family members, neighbors, guests and strangers are protected from your pet. You should check out the resources available to help, such as tips from animal shelters, dog ownership clubs, the American Kennel Club and, of course, the Internet.

Many insurers are choosing not to give dogs or their owners a fair chance. It is becoming more common for companies to refuse to write coverage for people who own certain breeds of dogs. The breeds commonly excluded include chows, pit bulls, Akitas, Rottweilers and sharpeis. Therefore, you must fight this trend by not taking pet ownership lightly.

The good news is, you’re probably already protected if you have a homeowner’s insurance policy. Just make sure you have adequate limits to protect you from financial damage if you have an incident like this. I recommend that everyone have a minimum liability limit of $1 million. Adding an extra million in coverage with an umbrella policy is also a good idea, and doesn’t cost as much as you might imagine.

Your liability limit is not just for pet attacks, either. It protects you from many unfortunate incidents, like when a guest slips and falls in your driveway or when your kid accidently drives the lawn mower into the neighbor’s new Mercedes. Make sure you read your policy or go over it with your independent insurance agent to see what is excluded.