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Dog-Bite Costs Surge to $479 Million as Claims Increase

May 17 (Bloomberg) -- U.S. insurers’ costs tied to dog bites surged last year to a record as the price of the average claim jumped 12 percent on higher medical fees, legal settlements and jury awards.

Bites cost the industry $478.9 million last year, compared with $412.6 million in 2010, the Insurance Information Institute said in a statement today on its website. The average claim increased to $29,396.

“The most dangerous dogs are those that fall victim to human shortcomings such as poor training, irresponsible ownership and breeding practices that foster viciousness,” according to the statement.

The attacks account for more than one-third of all liability payouts from home insurers, an industry led by policyholder-owned State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. and Allstate Corp. A lawsuit can cost more than $100,000 in legal fees and lost wages, even if the homeowner wins, according to the institute, which says dog owners can limit confrontations by spaying or neutering the animals and keeping them from infants.

“A dog’s tendency to bite depends on such factors as heredity, obedience training, socialization, health and the victim’s behavior,” Bloomington, Illinois-based State Farm said in a separate statement this week. “There are good dogs and bad dogs within every breed, just as there can be responsible and irresponsible owners of each breed.”

Postal Service

There were 16,292 claims last year, down from 2003, the first year the institute’s data were listed in the statement. The average cost per claim increased 53 percent since 2003.

Dog owners aren’t responsible in most states for injuries to trespassers, according to the statement. National Dog Bite Prevention week begins this weekend.

The U.S. Postal Service said 5,577 of its employees were attacked last year in more than 1,400 cities. Los Angeles had the most attacks, 83, followed by San Diego and Houston, the service said in a statement today.

Letter carriers fearing for their safety because of an unrestrained animal can stop delivery and require pet owners to pick up mail at a post office, according to the statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dan Kraut in New York at dkraut2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Kraut at dkraut2@bloomberg.net

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