For many homeowners, a dog is a cherished member of the household; according to the Humane Society of the United States, there are 77.5 million household dogs in the U.S., a whopping 39 percent of all households. Normally, human-dog interaction is a positive experience for both animal and person, but lately, dog-bite statistics have been increasing. Dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims paid out in 2009, costing $412 million and up 8.70 percent from 2008, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
More than 4.7 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs annually, and nearly 900,000 of those, half of them children, require medical care, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those injured, 386,000 require treatment in an emergency department. The rate of dog bite related injuries is highest for children aged five to nine years old; the rate decreases thereafter. With more than 50 percent of bites occurring on the dog owner’s property, the issue is a major source of concern for insurers.
Dog Owner Liability
There are three kinds of law that impose liability on owners:
Dog-bite statute: The dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes, even without provocation.
“One-bite” rule: In some states, the owner is not held liable for the first bite the dog inflicts. Once an animal has demonstrated vicious behavior, such as biting or otherwise displaying a ‘vicious propensity’, the owner can be held liable. Some states have moved away from the one-bite rule and hold owners responsible for any injury, regardless of whether the animal has previously bitten someone.
Negligence laws: The dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because he or she was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.
The owner of a dog, however, is not liable if the dog injures a trespasser.
The CDC recommends the following steps regarding human-dog interaction:
Consult with a professional (e.g., veterinarian, animal behaviorist, or responsible breeder) to learn about suitable breeds of dogs for your household and neighborhood.
Spend time with a dog before buying or adopting it. Use caution when bringing a dog into a home with an infant or toddler. Dogs with histories of aggression are inappropriate in households with children.
Be sensitive to cues that a child is fearful of or apprehensive about a dog and, if so, delay acquiring a dog. Never leave infants or young children alone with any dog.
Have your dog spayed or neutered. Studies show that dogs are three times more likely to bite if they are NOT neutered.
Socialize your dog so it knows how to act with other people and animals.
Discourage children from disturbing a dog that is eating or sleeping.
Play non-aggressive games with your dog, such as “go fetch.” Playing aggressive games like “tug-of-war” can encourage inappropriate behavior.
Avoid exposing your dog to new situations in which you are unsure of its response.
Never approach a strange dog and always avoid eye contact with a dog that appears threatening.
Immediately seek professional advice from veterinarians, animal behaviorists, or responsible breeders if the dog develops aggressive or undesirable behaviors.
Using these strategies should hopefully allow your personal relationship with Fido to be a positive one.
At Gordon Atlantic, we have an opportunity to work alongside many outstanding businesses, one of which is Trouwe Hond, a professional dog training and kennel business that is truly top in its class. If you have a dog, check out their site.