Does homeowners insurance cover dog bite claims?

As a general rule, coverage for dog bite claims comes from the liability section of your Ohio homeowners, condo or renters insurance policy. Liability insurance covers bodily injury and property damage to others. The policy would pay up to the limit shown.

HOWEVER, homeowners insurance isn’t always as black and white as we would like. It is certainly possible that the dog bite may NOT be covered. And not covered means you get to pay out of your pocket and NOT the insurance company. YIKES!

Let’s look at some of the most common reasons when a dog bite claim would not be covered and we’ll end with a common example of a covered dog bite claim and what action the insurance company may take. We’ll cover both NEW policies and existing policies.

New policies

When homeowners insurance doesn’t cover dog bite claims- your dog is on the restricted list

If you’re applying for a new homeowners insurance policy, many insurance companies will not insure a home if there are dogs that are on the restricted list. Here’s some common dogs that are on the list:

  • Akita
  • Pit bull
  • Chow
  • Presa Canario
  • Rottweiler
  • Shar-pei 
  • Wolf Hybrid

I’m not here to debate whether or not this is discrimination or that “Fluffy the pit bull” is actually the sweetest dog on the planet. There’s always exceptions. The only reason these breeds are restricted is because the dog bite claims that have been paid involve one of these types of dogs. Period. You can guarantee that if toy poodles started to rack up the claims, they’d be on the list too.

Word has gotten out that insurance companies have restricted lists, so in an effort to get coverage, some folks do not disclose they have these dogs and the application reflects this. Depending on the situation it may be judged as either misrepresentation or concealment, but regardless this is sufficient cause to deny a claim. Period.

In the worst cases, some agents have been less than truthful on the application just to write the business. FYI- this is just as bad (if not worse) than you not revealing the information in the first place.

So if Fido decides to nibble on a visitor, the insurance company can (and will) look at that application. If you lied, then that’s called material misrepresentation and not only will the claim NOT be paid, chances are good the policy will be cancelled shortly thereafter. If the agent lied, the same answer applies.

So do yourself a favor- Be truthful. You never want to give the insurance company an opportunity to deny a claim. If you have one of the dogs mentioned above, ask if that dog is permitted. If not, go to the next company. I know for a fact there are companies out there that allow many of the above breeds, so you just have to do your homework.   

When homeowners insurance doesn’t cover dog bite claims- your dog has a bite history

Again, most insurance applications ask about previous bite history. If you say No, and it’s really Yes, you could have a big problem on your hands. Claim denial and policy cancellation can easily follow just like in the above example.

Most insurance companies will NOT write a new homeowners policy that includes a dog with a bite history. It makes sense- the chances are good the dog will bite again and they will be on the hook to pay the claim.

In the best case scenario, the insurance company may request a liability exclusion for the dog. This means that if the dog bites someone, your policy will not pay any bills related to that claim (think medical, legal, etc.)

In the worst case scenario, the insurance company just won’t write the policy. Again, there are companies out there that will write a homeowners insurance policy for a household with a dog that has bitten previously. It may take some digging, but they’re out there.

Existing policies

When homeowners insurance doesn’t cover dog bite claims- you have an existing policy and get a dog on the restricted list.

Not only do dogs on the restricted list matter when writing a brand new policy, but they matter if you have an existing policy.

My suggestion is to contact your insurance company BEFORE you go spring Fido from the pound. The restricted list may still be applicable and your dog may not qualify.

The best case scenario is that your company will permit a liability exclusion, like stated above. So you can still get the dog, you just won’t have any liability coverage should the dog bite.

Worst case scenario, you get the dog and the insurance company cancels your policy.

Again there are many companies that will insure dogs typically on the restricted list, so don’t take chances on a claim NOT being paid.

Dog bite claim example

You don’t have a dog on the restricted list and you’ve answered all questions on the application truthfully. But it happens. Fido gets upset and bites a visitor to your home.

As mentioned in the beginning, your homeowners insurance liability should pay for the injuries and any legal defense if you’re sued (up to policy limit). Once the claim is settled, several things could happen.

  •  Your insurance company may request a liability exclusion for the dog.
  •  Your insurance company may cancel your policy.
  •  Your insurance company may request you get rid of the dog in order to continue the policy.

So as a general rule, Yes, homeowners insurance will pay if your dog bites someone (provided all company requirements were met and there is no misrepresentation on the application). Again, rules vary depending on company and state law, so when in doubt, call your agent and ask as many questions as you need. Ask about the restricted list, bite history, reporting requirements if you get a new dog and what would happen if your existing dog bites. It’s always better to know BEFORE the claim happens, because after is TOO late.

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