Dog Bite Claims Up Record Levels

Dog bite claims up record levels in 2013, report U.S. insurers

Most dogs are family friends and generally provide no danger to neighbors and pedestrians. As one viral video has shown, however, dogs may occasionally attack innocent bystanders even when unprovoked. And unfortunately there isn’t always a “hero cat” around to save the day, as was the case for the little boy in California, who nonetheless received a deep bite before the family cat fought the dog off.

More dogs, more attacks

According to the Humane Society, pet ownership has tripled in the U.S. since the 1970s; there are over 80 million owned dogs in the U.S. Consequently dog attacks have become more common. The Insurance Information Institute reported insurers spent a record $483.7 million on payouts for dog bites in 2013, almost a 6 percent increase from the year previously and the highest payout since 2003.

New York residents tallied the highest average cost, with dog bite injuries bringing an average of $43,122 in medical expenses to the victim. Nationally, the average was $27,862. New Jersey was not among the top ten states in dog bite claims.

In all, dog bites accounted for over one-third of homeowner liability claims in 2013.

Owner responsibility

Dog owners are responsible for the behavior of their pets. Owners who train their dogs and keep them leashed when not in a fenced or secured area usually do not have problems with dog attacks. Negligent owners, however, may see their dogs become aggressive, especially when loose. Under New Jersey law, however, owners do not have to be negligent to be held legally responsible if their pet attacks someone.

Prey instincts can kick in for any animal. Dogs may also attack if trained to be aggressive or they feel threatened for themselves, their pack or their territory. A dog will bark to warn off people or animals encroaching on their territory, for example. If a dog owner does not keep a dog leashed and discourage this behavior, a dog may instinctually attack passerby.

Training can go a long way towards making dogs safe. The Insurance Information Institute recommends that dog owners also play non-aggressive games with their dogs. “Tug-of-war,” for example, can lead to biting behavior, while “fetch” is relatively safe.

Certain breeds of dogs are more aggressive than others. Pit bulls have a reputation for aggression and are by far the breed with the highest number of attacks on humans. Some municipalities have prohibited pit bull ownership because of the danger they may pose to the community.

Victoria Stilwell, host of Animal Planet’s “It’s Me or the Dog” does not believe banning types of breeds is the answer, however. Rather, dog safety should come from “raise[d] awareness of canine behavior through education, as well as encouraging responsible dog ownership,” she told

Dog attacks can lead to significant and devastating injuries. People who have had to receive medical attention because of a dog bite should contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss potential legal action against the owner.