Dog Bite Liability

Did you know that dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out last year, costing more than $530 million?

Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year and about 885,000 require medical attention for these injuries; about half of these are children.

With 68 percent of U.S. households, or 83.3 million homes, owning a pet, we thought it would be a good idea to share some insight into how insurance companies view pets (specifically dogs) and what can be done to ensure you have proper liability insurance coverage.

If you have any specific questions related to your homeowners insurance policy and pets, please feel free to give our office a call.


 

Claims: According to the Insurance Information Institute, the average cost paid out for dog bite claims nationwide was $32,072 last year. The average cost per claim nationally has risen more than 67 percent from 2003, due to increased medical costs as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which are still on the upswing.

The trend in higher costs per claim is attributable not only to dog bites but also to dogs knocking down children, cyclists, the elderly, etc., which can result in injuries that impact the potential severity of the losses.

State and Local Legislation: Dog owners are liable for injuries their pets cause if the owner knew the dog had a tendency to bite. In some states, statutes make the owners liable whether or not they knew the dog had a tendency to bite; in others, owners can be held responsible only if they knew or should have known their dogs had a propensity to bite. Some states and municipalities have “breed specific” statutes that identify breeds such as pit bulls as dangerous; in others individual dogs can be designated as vicious.

Dog Owners’ Liability: There are three kinds of law that impose liability on owners:

1) A dog-bite statute: where the dog owner is automatically liable for any injury or property damage the dog causes without provocation.

2) The one-bite rule: where the dog owner is responsible for an injury caused by a dog if the owner knew the dog was likely to cause that type of injury—in this case, the victim must prove the owner knew the dog was dangerous.

3) Negligence laws: where the dog owner is liable if the injury occurred because the dog owner was unreasonably careless (negligent) in controlling the dog.

Insurers are Limiting their Exposure: Homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability legal expenses, up to the liability limits (typically $100,000 to $300,000). If the claim exceeds the limit, the dog owner is responsible for all damages above that amount. Some insurers do not ask the breed of a dog owned when writing or renewing homeowners insurance and do not track the breed of dogs involved in dog bite incidents. However, once a dog has bitten someone, it poses an increased risk. In that instance, the insurance company may charge a higher premium, nonrenew the homeowner’s insurance policy or exclude the dog from coverage.

Some insurers are taking steps to limit their exposure to such losses. Some companies require dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, while others charge more for owners of breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers and others are not offering insurance to dog owners at all. Some will cover a pet if the owner takes the dog to classes aimed at modifying its behavior or if the dog is restrained with a muzzle, chain or cage.

Break-in Prevention Tips

If you ever wondered what the chances are that an intruder will find his way into your home, you’ll want to read on. According to the FBI, the United States leads the world in burglary occurrences with over 2.2 million instances each year.

In fact, 23.8 percent of property claims involve burglary, causing an estimated $4.6 billion in lost property.  Plus, with only 13 percent of burglaries cleared by police, the likelihood of retrieving your stolen items is fairly small.

This brings up two important questions:

Are there items that make homes more susceptible to burglary? 

What can be done to help prevent it?

Below is a breakdown on where and how burglaries occur, along with some additional information on protecting your residence from potential break-ins.

If you have additional questions on how your homeowners insurance responds to burglary, please feel free to give our office a call.

Where do burglaries occur?

Of all burglaries, 60.5 percent involved a forcible entry with another 33.2 percent as unlawful entries (without force).  The majority of break-ins occur in the following locations:

  • Front Door: 34%
  • First-Floor Windows: 23%
  • Side Entry: 22%
  • Garage: 9%

What can I do to help prevent it?

  • Protect the house.
  • Make your home look occupied, and make it difficult to break in.
  • Leave lights on when you go out. If you are going to be away for a length of time, connect some lamps to automatic timers to turn them on in the evening and off during the day.
  • Keep your garage door closed and locked.
  • Don’t allow daily deliveries of mail, newspapers or flyers build up while you are away. Arrange with the Post Office to hold your mail, or arrange for a friend or neighbor to take them regularly.
  • Pushbutton locks on doorknobs are easy for burglars to open. Install deadbolt locks on all your outside doors.
  • Sliding glass doors are vulnerable. Special locks are available for better security.

Don’t Tempt a Thief:

  • Lawn mowers, barbecues and bicycles should be stored out of sight.
  • Always lock your garden sheds and garages.
  • Use curtains on garage and basement windows.

Locks…Get the Best:

  • No lock, regardless of its quality, can be truly effective. Key-in dead bolt locks provide minimum security.
  • Change locks immediately if your keys are lost or stolen.
  • When moving into a new home, have all locks changed.

Targeting the Outside:

  • Have adequate exterior lighting. A motion-sensitive light is recommended for backyards.
  • Trim trees and shrubs so that they cannot be used as hiding places for intruders.
  • Make sure your door hinges are on the inside.

Windows:

  • Most windows can be pinned for security.
  • Drill a 3/16″ hole on a slight downward slant through the inside window frame and halfway into the outside frame – place a nail in the hole to secure the window.

Alarms:

  • An alarm system is excellent for home security. It provides peace of mind to homeowners, especially while on vacation. There is a wide variety of alarm systems on the market.
  • If you have a home alarm system, use it! Activate your alarm system — Alarm systems are only useful when you remember to activate them.
  • Many individuals have alarm systems but do not arm them because it is inconvenient. Many burglars know this and will not be deterred by a window sticker or sign indicating that the home has an alarm system.

If Your Home Is Broken Into:

  • If you come home to find an unexplained open/broken window or door:
  • Do not enter – the perpetrator may still be inside.
  • Use a neighbor’s phone to call police.
  • Do not touch anything or clean up until the police have inspected for evidence.
  • Write down the license plate numbers of any suspicious vehicles.
  • Note the descriptions of any suspicious persons.

Other precautions you should take:

Never leave keys under doormats, flowerpots, mailboxes or other “secret” hiding places — burglars know where to look for hidden keys.

Keep a detailed inventory of your valuable possessions, including a description of the items, date of purchase and original value, and serial numbers, and keep a copy in a safe place away from home — this is a good precaution in case of fires or other disasters. Make a photographic or video record of valuable objects, heirlooms and antiques. Your insurance company can provide assistance in making and keeping your inventory.

Childproofing Your Home

Parents worry endlessly about how to protect their children, but many overlook one of the biggest threats to their children’s safety and well-being — their own home. Experts say that children between the ages of 1 and 4 are more likely to be killed by fire, burns, drowning, choking, poisoning, or falls within the home than anything else.

In fact, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control about 2.3 million children are accidentally injured every year and more than 2,500 are killed. That’s why it’s so important to carefully childproof your home.

We know that home safety measures can seem overwhelming, so below we have provided some tips to properly protect your children from potential accidents.

Scope out the territory

The most effective way to ensure your baby’s safety is to take a baby’s-eye view of your home. Get down on your hands and knees and see how things look from down there.

What’s within reach? What looks tempting? Where would you go if you could crawl, toddle, or walk?

This will help you figure out which cupboards, drawers, and other spaces your child might get into. As he starts walking and climbing, you’ll have to reevaluate again, looking higher each time.

Carefully lock up or stow away every potential poison or other hazard, including cleaning products, medicines, vitamins, and knives. Use gates to limit your child’s access to areas of your home that might contain dangerous items.

Protect outlets

It’s a good idea to protect electrical outlets with outlet covers. Unfortunately, the removable little plug-in caps can easily end up in your baby’s mouth. Instead, replace the outlet covers themselves – at least those that are accessible – with ones that include a sliding safety latch.

If you’re using extension cords in your home, cover any exposed outlets with electrical tape.

Use caution with furniture and fixtures

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), more than 16,000 children under the age of 5 went to the emergency room in 2006 with injuries caused when television sets, bookcases, and other furniture and appliances tipped over on them.

Large or heavy bookcases, dressers, and appliances are real hazards: Bolt whatever you can to the wall. Push items like televisions back from the edge of the furniture they’re on or move them out of reach, and then secure them, too. Always put heavier items on bottom shelves and in bottom drawers to make furniture less top-heavy.

Install gates

Most parents consider safety gates essential childproofing tools. They allow you to open outside doors for air while keeping your child indoors, they contain him within a designated room, and they block his access to dangerous stairways and forbidden rooms (such as the bathroom or kitchen).

Unfortunately, if out-of-date or used improperly, safety gates can themselves pose a hazard to children. In general, look for gates that your child can’t dislodge but that you can easily open and close. (Otherwise, you’ll be too tempted to leave them open when you’re in a hurry.)

Never use pressure gates at the top of stairs. Instead, install a gate that screws to the wall – it’s much more secure.

Check ties on blinds and curtains

According to the CPSC, the cords on window coverings are a frequent cause of strangulation of children, killing a child between the ages of 7 months and 10 years every month in the United States.

Window blinds pose a particular hazard because a baby’s neck could become trapped in the cords that raise the blinds or run through the slats. A child can become entangled in a looped window cord and strangle in a matter of minutes. Use cordless window coverings wherever possible, and avoid placing your baby’s crib near a window.

Secure your windows and doors

According to the CPSC, every year about eight children under the age of 5 die from falling out of windows in the United States, and more than 3,000 are injured.

Always open double-hung windows from the top or fit them with locks to prevent small children from opening them.

Low windows shouldn’t open more than 4 inches. Window stops are available that can prevent windows from opening more than this. Some newer windows come with window stops already installed.

Window screens are not strong enough to prevent falls. To make windows safe, install window stops or window guards, which screw into the side of a window frame, have bars no more than 4 inches apart, and can be adjusted to fit windows of many different sizes.

Prevent drowning

According to the CPSC, more than 430 children under age 5 drowned between 2005 and 2009 – not in a pool, but in their own home. Accidental drowning is the leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 4.

Most in-home drowning deaths involve babies in bathtubs. Never leave your baby unattended in the tub – even if he’s in a ring or bath seat. Supervise your child whenever he’s in the bathroom, and install a safety latch on your toilet lid to prevent him from accidentally falling in.

Winter Weather Checklist

As we continue to experience freezing weather all across the country, it’s important to ensure your home is prepared for the plummeting temperatures.

A frozen pipe or collapsed roof will not only cost thousands of dollars in repairs to either you or your insurance company, but it will almost certainly displace you and your family from your home until the work is complete.

Below you will find a few tips on how to prevent potential damage to your property from freezing weather.

Also, if you would like to know how your homeowners insurance policy would respond to the scenarios below, please feel free to give our office a call.

WINTER WEATHER MAINTENANCE CHECKLIST

PREVENT ROOF COLLAPSE: Heavy snowfall can put a strain on a roof that could cause significant damage and even potential collapse. Unless your roof structure is damaged or decayed, most residential roofs, regardless of the location of the house, should be able to support 20 pounds of snow per square foot of roof space before they become stressed.Here’s how to determine the weight of snow/ice on your roof:

  • Fresh snow: 10-12 in. of new snow is equal to 1 inch of water, or about 5 lbs. per square foot of roof space, so you could have up to 4 ft. of new snow before the roof will become stressed.
  • Packed snow: 3-5 in. of old snow is equal to 1 inch of water, or about 5 lbs. per square foot of roof space, so anything more than 2 ft. of old snow could be too much for your roof to handle.
  • Total accumulated weight: 2 ft. of old snow and 2 ft. of new snow could weigh as much as 60 lbs. per square foot of roof space, which is beyond the typical snow load capacity for most roofs.
  • Ice: 1 inch of ice equals 1 ft. of fresh snow.
Snow Removal: If you feel the load on your roof exceeds 20-25 pounds per square foot, you should consider removing snow from your roof. For safe removal that won’t endanger you or damage your roof, use a snow rake with a long extension arm that will allow you to remove the snow while standing on the ground or hire a snow removal contractor.

PREVENT ICE DAMS: During freezing weather, heat from your home can escape through your roof and melt snow on your roof. The snowmelt can then trickle down to the roof’s edge and refreeze, creating an ice dam that leaves additional snowmelt with no place to go but possibly under your roof.

A two-step approach is the most effective way to reduce the size of ice dams. First, keep the attic floor well insulated to minimize the amount of heat from within the house that rises into the attic. Second, keep the attic well ventilated so that the cold air outside can circulate through it and reduce the temperature of the roof system. The colder the attic, the less thawing and refreezing on the roof.

Step One: Insulating the attic. The attic floor should be airtight, have sufficient insulation, and keep the transfer of heat from the downstairs to the attic at a minimum. Even a well-insulated attic floor may have a number of openings that can permit warm air from below to seep up into the attic. For instance, these items may cut through the attic floor:

  • Exhaust pipes and plumbing vents
  • Fireplace and heating system chimneys
  • Light fixtures

Seal all openings around these penetrations, but be careful not to block attic vents with insulation. Additionally, pull-down stairs or a set of regular stairs leading up to the attic from the lower level can be avenues for rising heat. Weatherstripping around the edges of the attic access door and insulation on the attic side of the door should minimize the passage of heat to the attic.

Step Two: Ventilating the attic. There are several ways to ventilate your attic. To the extent that household heat penetrates the attic, it should be able to rise and escape through, for instance, a ridge vent, while soffit or eave vents pull in cold air to replace it. Proper ventilation of the attic to let cold in, together with air sealing and insulation on the attic floor to help keep household heat out of the attic, work to minimize the likelihood of ice dams.

PREVENT FROZEN PIPES: Frozen pipes are one of the biggest risks of property damage when the temperature drops. In fact, a burst pipe can result in more than $5,000 in water damage. Prevent costly water damage caused by frozen pipes by using the following guidance.
  • Insulate all attic penetrations.
  • Ensure proper seals on all doors and windows.
  • Seal all wall cracks and penetrations, including electrical conduit and other utility service lines.
  • Place a monitored automatic excess flow switch on the main incoming domestic water line to provide early detection of a broken pipe or valve when the space is unoccupied.
INSTALL WEATHER STRIPPING AND SEALS: Prevent freezing temperatures from entering your home or business by installing weather stripping and seals. This offers two major benefits – it will keep severe winter weather out of your home or business and sealing your property shut also greatly increases energy efficiency by limiting drafts and reducing the amount of cold air that enters. Inspect the following areas of your home or business for leaks to determine possible areas to seal.
  • Windows and doors
  • Vents and fans
  • Plumbing
  • Air conditioners
  • Electrical and gas lines
  • Mail chutes