Protecting yourself from your pet

Question from Billy S. from Noblesville:

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?

Response from Jamie Ianigro:

We all love our pets. They make great family members, playmates and protectors; but they are always causing problems for insurance companies. Nearly 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 and happens to unsuspecting pet owners just like us.

Tens of millions of U.S. households own dogs, and incidents show no sign of slowing down. A key contributing factor to these incidents is the failure of dog owners to supervise and train their pets. Another problem is that many persons, especially children, do not know how to behave around dogs.

The good news about this issue is that you’re 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 $1,000,000. 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.

When you own a pet, you have a responsibility to raise and handle your pet in a manner that reduces the chance of an incident. Steps to take include researching your breed and the 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 available help resources, such as tips from animal shelters, dog ownership clubs, the American Kennel Club and, of course, the internet.

It may not be the fairest set of circumstances, but 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 persons 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-owning lightly.