Dog Bite Costs at Insurers Fall For First Time Since 2004

U.S. insurers’ costs tied to dog bites fell for the first time since 2004 as a decline in the number of claims cushioned another increase in the average expense per attack.

Bites cost the industry $489.7 million in 2012, compared with a record $490.8 million a year earlier, the Insurance Information Institute said today in a statement. The number of claims slipped about 1.4 percent to 16,459.

The population of dogs has been on the decline in the U.S. according to State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co., the biggest provider of residential coverage. Bloomington, Illinois-based State Farm is among insurers urging policyholders to use leashes in public, make sure pets are socialized as puppies and increase supervision of the animals around young children.

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

The number of dog-bite claims at State Farm fell to 3,670 in 2012 from 3,750 a year earlier, the insurer said. The U.S. dog population was about 70 million at the end of 2011, down from 72 million in 2006, State Farm said, citing data from The American Veterinary Medical Association.

The growth in the average cost per bite slowed last year, according to the institute. The expense tied to the typical attack climbed 1.2 percent to $29,752. That compares with a 12 percent increase in 2011.

Jury Awards

“While a decrease in dog bite claims is good news, the rise in claims costs by even a small amount suggests that medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs are still on the upswing,” the institute said.

Residential policies typically cover liability from dog bites, according to the institute. The industry group said last year that bites account for more than a third of liability payouts from home insurers and that a lawsuit can cost more than $100,000 in fees and lost wages, even if won by the dog owner. National Dog Bite Prevention Week begins May 19.

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