Dog bites could potentially take a large chunk out of owners’ wallets

HARLINGEN — The bite is definitely worse than the bark.

Dog bites are taking a chunk of money from homeowner’s liability insurance as settlement claims soared to more than $570 million in 2015, accounting for one-third of all homeowner’s liability payouts, a new study says.

Texas ranks No. 5 in total bite claims with 688, and the settlement cost for each bite averaged $30,241.

The report from the Insurance Information Institute, a nonprofit insurance industry numbers-cruncher, said the average cost per claim nationwide has risen more than 94 percent since 2003.

“You never expect your dog to bite someone, but you never know when a 2-year-old will get in your dog’s face … or somebody will just scare your dog,” said Mark Hanna, spokesman for the Insurance Council of Texas.

“What’s surprising is the cost these days,” he added. “That’s pretty serious, and if that were to come out of your back pocket, that’s a pretty good chunk of money.”

The study was released to coincide with Dog Bite Awareness Week. It serves as a reminder that while a dog may indeed be man or woman’s best friend, even good friends can cost you.

“The majority of dog bites come from dogs we already know, and the largest groups are children and the elderly,” said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a professor at Texas A&M University and executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

“Dogs not raised with good social skills can become dogs that bite,” Beaver said. “Owners need to be able to read their dog’s body language. Don’t assume that a dog won’t bite.”

The rise in the payouts for dog bites isn’t just for the tooth marks left behind, the study says.

The trend of higher payouts is linked to what else happened when the dog bite occurred, and the study cited things like dogs knocking down children, bicyclists or the elderly. Often these cases result in fractures or blunt-force trauma injuries which raise the cost of the bite.

“Everyone’s fortunate if you have a homeowner’s policy and that inside that policy is a liability portion that is going to protect you if your dog bites somebody,” Hanna said.

Many insurance companies don’t have policies on dog ownership, or even what breed of dog a policy-holder owns, said Loretta Worters, vice president of communications for the insurance institute.

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