In both Massachusetts and New Hampshire, dog owners are financially responsible for any damage caused by their dogs. That means you are responsible if your dog bites someone, but you also need to cover the costs involved if your dog causes property damage or injury through other actions. Typically, your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance covers these expenses, but here’s a closer look at the specifics.
As a dog owner, you are not legally required to carry coverage on your dog, but to protect yourself financially, you should ensure that you have adequate liability coverage through your homeowner’s policy. Most homeowner’s insurance plans offer between $250,000 and $300,000 for liability coverage. However, many policies offer less than these amounts, and of course, you can always opt to increase your coverage.
When you take out homeowners’ insurance, make sure that you let your insurer know that you have a dog in the home. Also, make sure to notify your insurer if you get a dog after taking out your policy. If you don’t let your insurer know and your dog injures someone, your insurer may deny the claim due to material misrepresentation.
In Massachusetts, it is illegal for any municipal or county government to make laws banning specific breeds of dogs. New Hampshire, in contrast, leaves this decision up to local governments. The state has no laws preempting breed-specific bans or requirements.
However, these laws do not extend to the practices of insurance companies. Insurers can refuse to insure dogs based on their breed and they can also increase premiums when homeowners have specific breeds of dogs. Some of the breeds that are most likely to incur higher premiums include the following:
The situation varies from insurer to insurer, and some insurers do not vary their rates or rules regardless of whether you have a Pitbull or a chihuahua. However, just as car insurers offer discounts for teens who take safe driving courses, homeowner’s insurance does as well. You may be able to get discounts if your dog passes a Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen program or a similar training program.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bite claims represented approximately one-third of all homeowners insurance claims, and insurers pay out hundreds of millions of dollars in these claims annually. In 2017, insurance companies paid out over $700 million in dog bite claims. Every year, the average claim seems to go up. For instance, in 2016, the average claim for a dog bite was $33,230, but in 2017, that number increased to $37,051. That’s an increase of over 10%. In fact, over the last 15 years, claims have increased by 90%.
When taking out your insurance policy, you shouldn’t just focus on these averages. Instead, you should take a worst-case scenario approach. For instance, in one case, the plaintiff won a $450,000 settlement after being attacked by a Pitbull. If your liability coverage doesn’t cover the amount of the damages suffered by the other party, you may be held personally liable, meaning that your assets or wages may be at risk.
Insurers base their premiums on the risk of a claim being made. Essentially, the insurer looks at your situation and if they think that there is a high risk of you making a claim, they increase your premiums. On the other hand, if there is a limited risk of you making a claim, they offer you lower premiums.
If your dog has bitten or attacked someone in the past, you may struggle to get homeowners insurance, but you may be able to obtain coverage through the Fair Access to Insurance Requirements (FAIR) Plan. This is a state-mandated shared market plan for homeowners who are struggling to get conventional homeowner’s insurance due to being labeled high risk. It doesn’t just apply to dog owners, but it can be helpful if you have had issues with your dog in the past.
Ideally, you don’t ever want to be in a situation where your dog attacks someone. You don’t want anyone to go through the pain of an attack, and you don’t want to lose your furry family member. To protect yourself, never leave your dog unattended around children — most dog attacks affect children, especially young children. Also, take steps to train your dog. If your dog shows signs of aggressive behavior when they are young such as nipping or snapping, enroll them in obedience training.
If you are attacked by a dog, you will need to file a claim with the dog owner’s insurance company. In cases where you sustained only minor injuries, you may not need a lawyer, but if you suffered serious injuries, disfigurement, lost time at work, or other significant expenses, you should contact a dog bite attorney. They can help to ensure that you get a settlement that covers all your expenses.
It’s also important to remember that the dog owner may not be the only liable party. Keepers can also be liable. For instance, if the dog was being walked by someone, they or their employer may be liable. Similarly, if the attack happened on someone else’s property, they may be liable. An attorney can help you identify the liable party in situations where it’s not necessarily clear cut.
In both Massachusetts and New Hampshire, there is a three-year statute of limitations on dog bites. You must bring forward your claim within three years of the attack. However, if you were attacked as a minor, you have three years after your 18th birthday to bring forward a claim. To learn more or to set up a free case evaluation, contact us today. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we have helped many dog bite victims get the justice they deserve after a dog bite attack.