Gotham Brokerage: New Yorkers Face Canine Conundrum

NYC insurance claims, payouts rising for dog bites

We know you love your dogs. We know Otis the Chow mix is a good boy. He never bites. He’s a big sweetie. He might lick you to death, but he won’t bite.

Until he does. It can happen. It’s not the dog’s fault. If a neighbor’s child tries to pet your dog through the chain-link fence and makes a sudden movement or tries to play too rough, the dog may bite.  New York City is filled with opportunities for a dog to take a bite out of somebody or get spooked, bolt and knock someone down. Say you’re walking your Pomeranian on a nice afternoon on Fifth Avenue en route to Central Park. You’ll run into tons of people, plenty of them with their own dogs. Your dog can easily get nervous and act out of character, even if he’s not usually a problem dog.

If that happens, your insurance policy can take a huge hit. Most homeowner and renter policies cover dog bite liability for up to as much as $300,000. But if you or someone who’s been bitten or otherwise hurt by your dog files a claim, your premiums probably will go up, maybe by a lot.

Many settlements even exceed $300,000. We handled a case not long ago in which a young child whose parents let her wander around went to a neighbor’s house, opened the fence gate and tried to play with the neighbor’s dog, which bit her. The insurer ended up paying $400,000, and our client’s premium skyrocketed.

A recent study by the Insurance Information Institute here in New York showed that dog bites accounted for more than a third of all homeowners liability claims paid out in 2009, and that the average cost of a dog bite claim — $64,555 — is rising annually because of increasing medical costs and high settlements, judgments and jury awards. In December, the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (a division of the Department of Health and Human Services) released alarming data that show dog-related hospital stays in the United States nearly doubled from 1993 through 2008.

So you need to be careful when choosing a family dog. Make sure it’s secure at your residence, train it well, and keep it on a leash whenever you walk it. Remember, too, that many insurers won’t offer coverage for certain breeds like the Rottweiler and Pit Bull because of their fearsome reputations.

Consult your policy or insurer to make sure you understand how well you’re covered if, heaven forbid, your sweet pup suddenly goes all Cujo on somebody. Or get in touch with Gotham Brokerage by phone or e-mail, and we’d be glad to tailor a policy to your — and your dog’s — tail-wagging satisfaction.


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