Dog bites are common incidents, especially in the United States, where more than one-third of households have at least one dog. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 4.7 million dog bites happen per year, and close to 800,000 of those bites require medical treatment.

The medical care that a dog bite victim may require can range from a rabies vaccination series to major surgery. With the rising cost of healthcare in the US, any medical expense could be a major financial burden for an individual.

So, who pays for a bite victim’s care? If you or someone in your immediate family are the victim, then this will fall under your health insurance. But what about people who are outside of that circle, like a neighbor, or a visiting friend?

If your dog bites someone, you are responsible for that person’s medical expenses. If you can’t come up with the money out of pocket, you’ll be looking to one of your insurance policies for help. But which one? Homeowners/renters? Medical? Would your dog’s pet insurance cover the costs? To answer the last question, no, but read on to learn more about the financial issues related to dog bites.

The Cost of a Dog Bite

A recent report from the Insurance Information Institute (I.I.I.) found that homeowners insurance policies paid out more than $686 million in dog bite-related claims in 2017. The amount that insurance companies have paid out has more than doubled since 2003, and the amount paid out per claim has increased by more than 90 percent. According to the I.I.I., the rising cost of healthcare in addition to an increasing number of lawsuits has led to this stark jump in payouts.

The average cost per claim in 2017 was $37,051, and in some states it was significantly higher. In Florida, for example, the average cost per claim was almost $45,000–that’s a year’s tuition at a private college!

Does a rabies shot really cost $37,000? No, but these claims often involve more than bites. According to the study, some of these dog-related claims involved pets running in to or knocking down cyclists or elderly individuals, which resulted in major injuries.

According to the CDC, 18 percent of dog bites become infected with bacteria found in dog’s mouths. Rabies is just one disease that a dog bite victim has to worry about. Dog bites can also cause tetanus, MRSA, or pasteurella–a disease that can cause swelling in the joints. Any of these diseases could result in a lengthy hospital that could cost tens of thousands of dollars.

So who pays for a dog-related injury?

In the initial aftermath of a dog bite, the victim’s health insurance will probably cover some of the costs. But like any good insurance company, it may start looking for the individual or entity responsible for the incident. A dog owner’s level of liability will depend on local laws, but it’s safe to assume that they will need to take responsibility for their pet’s behavior. Here are some of of the insurance options you may look to as a dog owner in this situation:

● Pet insurance – The purpose of pet insurance is to help pet owners pay for care related to illnesses or injuries that their pet is experiencing. Any claims paid out from a pet insurance policy have to be directly related to care of the pet, not a human that the pet may have injured.

● Homeowners/renters insurance – As you may have noticed, the I.I.I. report was based on homeowners insurance claims. Homeowners insurance does cover dog-related injuries, but it is not an automatic thing for every customer. Certain dog breeds that are considered aggressive like Rottweilers and pit bulls are often excluded from policies. Keep in mind that your homeowners insurance policy might not cover an event that did not happen on your property. For example, it might reject a claim if your dog bit someone while you were out on a walk. You may want to consider taking out a personal umbrella policy that will cover your dog.

● Dog liability insurance – There are a growing number of carriers offering stand-alone dog liability policies. The price of the premium will depend on factors like the dog’s breed and size and whether or not the dog had previously injured someone. This may be something you want to consider if you have a dog that is regularly in social situations. You may be able to negotiate lower rates with your insurer by proving that your dog has undergone behavior training or has taken an obedience class.