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Dog Bite Claims and Prevention

Updated: Apr 11

Little girl running in yard with small terrier accidentally biting on her arm

U.S. Insurers saw a significant increase in dog-related injury claims in 2023, with payouts reaching $1.12 billion. What makes this figure interesting is that it isn't the payout per claim that has gone up (it has actually decreased); it is the number of dog bite incidents that has soared.

Here are the Facts

According to the American Pet Products Association, about 65 million U.S. households own dogs, with a total of nearly 90 million pet dogs (as an FYI, there are also an estimated 3.3 million stray dogs in the U.S.). There are approximately 4.5 million people bitten by dogs each year, most of these being children. The disparity in the number of insurance claims and the number of dog bites is because the majority of bites occur with family pets biting family members.

As for dog bite liability claims, here are the stats:

  • 19,062 dog bite and related injury claims were reported in 2023, marking an 8% increase from 2022 and a 110% increase over the past decade.

  • $58,545 was the average cost per claim in 2023, a decrease from $64,555 in 2022.

  • California has the largest number of claims, with Florida a close second.

  • Illinois had the highest average cost per claim at $73,797, with Wyoming just behind.

But My Dog is So Gentle

Dogs are not just pets; they are members of the family. While many dog owners claim their beloved Fido is gentle, the fact is, he is until he isn't. It only takes one sudden, scary moment, and your sweet-natured pet can turn into Cujo, thinking he needs to protect you or himself. When he does, the dog bite liability portion of your homeowners insurance comes into play.

Homeowners and renters policies usually cover dog bite claims that typically range from $100,000 to $500,000. The dog owner is responsible for any damages above the limit.

Virginia Law

Unlike many other states, Virginia does not have a specific dog-bite statute. It handles dog-bite and dog-related injury cases according to the common law rules laid down in Virginia court cases over the years.

Virginia uses a so-called "one bite" rule states that a dog's owner may be held strictly liable for injuries caused by their dog if the owner knew or should have known that their dog might bite or be aggressive, not to just a person but also to someone else's pet. Determining fault, however, hinges on various factors, including the dog's history and the owner's knowledge of any aggressive tendencies.

This "one bite" rule doesn't apply only to dog bites. It also applies to other kinds of harm a dog can cause, such as jumping on someone and knocking him down or chasing someone and causing an injury or fall.

Negligence and "Negligence Per Se"

Even if a dog has never hurt someone before, a person can still seek damages if the dog owner can be shown to be negligent. In other words, the owner causes an injury by failing to maintain reasonable control of their dog.

An owner's behavior can be considered negligence per se when he violates a law or ordinance designed to protect the public and causes a victim's injuries.

For example, if a dog owner walks his dog off-leash in a park where a leash is required and the dog bites another pedestrian, the injured person can argue that the owner should be held liable.

Contributory Negligence

A dog owner can be criminally charged and sued in civil court at the same time. In a civil lawsuit, an owner can use contributory negligence as a defense by showing that the injured person was partly to blame.

As an example, suppose a person is teasing a neighbor's dog with a stick and the dog bites in defense. The dog's owner can argue that the dog's reaction was provoked.

In Virginia, contributory negligence is termed a "complete bar to recovery." This means that if the injured person is found to be even 1% at fault for their own injuries, they cannot recover any damages.

How To Avoid a Dog Bite Personal Injury Claim

Common sense is the best advice in preventing a dog bite personal injury claim.

  • Even if your county or city doesn't require a leash, keep your dog leashed unless in a fenced-in dog park.

  • Do not trust another dog owner who says his dog is safe or gentle. Keep a safe and manageable distance from unknown dogs.

  • Recognize dog body language:

    • An aggressive dog may try to make himself look bigger. His ears may be up and forward, the hair on his back raised, and the tail may be straight up (it may even wag). He will have a stiff, straight-legged stance and be moving forward and staring directly at his perceived threat.

    • An anxious or scared dog will make himself look smaller. He will shrink to the ground in a crouch, lower his head, repeatedly lick his lips, put his tail between his legs, flatten his ears back, and maybe yawn. He may also turn away and try to move away slowly.

    • A wagging tail or crouching body does not always mean friendliness

    • Ask before petting a dog.

    • If you have permission to pet, let the dog sniff your closed hand.

    • Avoid barking and growling dogs.

  • Socialize your dog. Undersocialized dogs are a greater risk to their owners and others.

  • Train your dog as early as you can.

  • Always supervise your dog when outside. Do not allow it to roam alone.

  • The first time your dog shows any aggression, whether an injury occurs or not, seek professional help.

  • Err on the side of safety. Be aware of common triggers (like bicycles or cats, etc.), pain, injury, sickness, approaching strangers or strange dogs, unusual noises or surroundings, and other attire such as hats, walking sticks, or umbrellas.

  • If your pet overreacts to delivery people or visitors, keep them in another room of your house.

  • Make sure your dog is licensed and have his rabies vaccination and vet information programmed into your phone.

The saying is that there are no bad dogs, just bad dog owners. Loving your pet is not where a dog owner's responsibility ends; it is where it begins. Responsible homeowners and responsible dog owners make the ideal home insurance customers.


Sources: AllLaw,, ASPCA



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