A dog is a man’s best friend. In fact, about 70 percent or 69 million households own a dog in the United States. However, dog bite claims are also common. An estimated 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs yearly, and nearly 800,000 require medical attention.

While any dog can bite, certain breeds are more prone to attack. Pit bulls, Rottweilers, and German Shepherds are the breeds most commonly implicated in bites. In 2021, statistics from the largest homeowners’ insurance carriers in the US showed dog bites and other dog-related injuries claims cost $881million. According to the World Animal Foundation, the average cost of dog-related injuries in 2023 is $64,555 per claim. 

What is Animal Liability?

If your dog bites somebody, the victim may be able to sue you for damages. This includes bites, scratches, and other injuries the dog may cause. This type of lawsuit is called an “animal liability” case. Owners are also liable for any damage their pet does to other people’s property.

Determining liability can be tricky. There is no national standard to determine the liability of a dog bite in the United States. While some states follow the one-bite rule, most follow the strict liability rule, where liability lies with the dog owner for any injuries the dog causes. Whether the dog has bitten anyone or the owner was negligent doesn’t matter. The one-bite rule is when the owner is liable if they knew that the dog might and could act in a dangerous or harmful way.

What factors determine liability?

Determining who is liable for a dog bite can be complicated. Some contributing factors include the dog’s breed, behavior, and whether the victim provoked the dog. Some exceptions to the strict liability rule apply, such as if the victim was trespassing on the owner’s property or provoking the dog.

To win an animal liability case, the victim must show that the owner was negligent. For example, the owner might not have adequately restrained the dog or may not have known that the dog was aggressive.

Dog breeds matter

Your dog’s breed can cause your premium insurance rates to go up. This is true if your dog belongs to the “breed list” or frequently banned dogs because they are associated with higher premiums. Some insurance companies restrict some dog breeds because of a greater chance of liability claims. Other insurance companies will require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites or increase rates.

Among those on the “breed list” are Rottweilers, Akitas, German Shepherds, Pit Bulls, Siberian Huskies, Doberman Pinschers, Presa Canarios, Great Danes, Alaskan Malamutes, and wolf-dog hybrids.

In 2021, statistics reported 3,397 Pit Bull attacks and 295 deaths, followed by Rottweiler with 535 attacks and eight deaths. German Shepherds came third with 113 attacks and 15 deaths.

Alternative for dog breed restrictions

Dealing with the breed list is not pleasant for owners and dogs. It could be traumatic for some dog owners to part with their pets, but there are options for dog owners to go around the breed restrictions.

If your dog belongs to the breed list, one option is to get professional dog training. Take your dog to an obedience school like the Canine Good Citizen program to have a well-behaved pet who won’t scratch walls and furniture and won’t bother the neighbors. Dog training programs also teach responsible ownership to dog owners. Many insurers will make special considerations if you can provide proof of completion from a certified trainer.

Bottom Line 

To sum it up, it’s important to be aware of the potential liability of owning a dog or other potentially dangerous animal. By being proactive and understanding the law, dog owners can help protect themselves from legal troubles. Don’t forget that dog bites can cause severe injuries and even death. Being a responsible dog owner can help reduce the risk of dog bites and dog-bite-related injuries. It’s best to inform your insurance agent if you have any pets, especially dogs.