There comes a point in life when you can look back with a sense of pride at what you’ve been able to accomplish. Your hard work has paid off and you’re the proud owner of a nice house, a comfortable car, perhaps a great vacation home and other amenities associated with “the good life.”
If you’ve reached this stage of your life, you are vulnerable to lawsuits. Incidents can occur during day-to-day activities that could potentially cost you. A serious accident could occur on your property. Or you could be involved in a car crash that results in a lawsuit.
You probably feel confident that your homeowners and car insurance will protect you in the event of such claims. But while these policies do include liability coverage, the amount is limited. If you are found to be responsible in an accident and a judgment is awarded that exceeds the policy’s limit, you will have to pay the balance out of your own pocket.
What Can You Do?
You can protect your assets by increasing coverage with a personal liability umbrella policy. These policies, which are generally sold in $1 million increments, kick in after your homeowner, auto and boat policies have been exhausted. An umbrella policy then pays claims up to the coverage limit for bodily injury, property damage or personal injury.
However, umbrella policies don’t cover everything. Although coverage varies widely among companies, common exclusions include intentional acts or damages resulting from a business, even if you operate a home business. You must buy separate coverage for business risks.
You may feel you are already paying enough for various types of insurance. But dollar for dollar, umbrella insurance is relatively inexpensive because claims are rare and some of the risk is assumed under the primary auto or homeowner policy. However, for the same reason, most insurers require that your primary policies meet certain limits before you can purchase an umbrella policy. According to the Insurance Information Institute, most insurers want you to have about $250,000 of liability insurance on your auto policy and $300,000 of liability insurance on a homeowner policy before they will sell you an umbrella liability policy for $1 million of additional coverage.
In this litigious society, it is wise to protect yourself from being the target of a lawsuit. Regardless of your cautious nature or good intentions, it may make sense to buy umbrella insurance and spread your coverage over a wider area of liability.
Coping with Dog Bite Liability
Spiraling litigation costs for dog attacks have prompted insurers to take action and make changes in their coverage of our four-legged friends. Below are some tips on your pet coverage and how to minimize the risks of your dog attacking or biting someone.
Train, Socialize and Be Responsible
Not too long ago, there was a high-profile dog-bite trial in California after a woman was mauled and bitten to death by a dog that had been bred for fighting. It was a tragedy that highlights what such incidents can mean to dog owners who can face litigation, higher insurance premiums and cancelled policies.
Dog bites are not unusual. According to the most recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control, each year there are 4.7 million dog bites in the U.S. In 2007 there were 32 fatal dog attacks in the United States. Litigation costs have soared to nearly $1 billion, according to the Insurance Information Institute.
In the face of growing casualty claims related to animals, insurers are taking action and:
- Eliminating coverage.
- Asking policy holders to certify that they do not harbor vicious animals.
- Refusing new policies to those with a dog bite claim during a specific period of time, even if that pet is no longer in the home.
Insurers are also revising existing policies, so carefully read your policy and any notices your insurer sends. To be doubly sure about what your policy covers, check with your agent.
Policies that do cover dogs typically provide between $100,000 and $300,000 in liability coverage and policyholders are responsible for everything above that amount.
If you wind up with a claim on your policy, your carrier may come back with two options:
1. Get rid of the dog.
2. Pay a higher premium or lose the policy.
For the latter possibility, you may be able to add a separate policy specifically to cover potential liability, but the cost could be prohibitive.
Here are some tips on how to significantly reduce the risk of dog bites or attacks:
Spay or neuter dogs. This routine procedure makes dogs much less likely to bite.
Socialize dogs. Familiarize your pet to different types of people and situations to prevent the animal from becoming nervous or frightened under normal social conditions. Don’t allow dogs to roam alone and don’t keep them alone or chained for long periods of time.
Train your dog to obey, not to attack. Get professional training and have each member of the family learn the training techniques. Accompany the animal to lessons, rather than sending it away for training.
Teach appropriate behavior. When playing with your dog, make the games fun, but don’t play tug-of-war or wrestle with the animal and don’t teach the dog to chase or attack, even in fun. Dogs can’t always understand the difference between play and real-life situations.
Be responsible. License your dog as required by law and provide regular veterinary care, including rabies vaccinations. Obey leash laws, which may mandate a certain length and outlaw certain types of leashes. The first time your dog shows dangerous behavior, including toward another animal, seek professional help.
Discourage children from bothering dogs that are eating or sleeping. Don’t allow children to take the family dog for a walk until they are mentally and physically mature enough and understand leash laws and dog behavior. Never leave infants or young children alone with a dog.
Know your dog. Learn what excites the animal or puts it on guard and avoid those situations. Know the dog’s personal language of barks, growls and whimpers, and learn to read his tail, eyes, ears and body posture.
What if Your Dog Bites?
If your dog bites someone, respond immediately with these actions:
- Confine the dog immediately to protect any other people in the area.
- Check on the victim’s condition and offer to take him or her to a hospital or doctor.
- If feasible, offer to pay the victim’s medical bills.
- Obtain the name, address, and phone numbers of witnesses.
- Provide the victim with important information such as the date of your dog’s last rabies vaccination.
- Cooperate with the animal control official responsible for acquiring information about your dog.
- If officials order quarantine, ask if the dog can be confined at your home or at your veterinarian’s hospital. Strictly follow quarantine requirements.
- Seek professional help to prevent the dog from biting again. Consult with your vet, who may refer you to an animal behaviorist or a dog trainer. Your community animal care and control agency or humane society may also offer services.
- If you must give up your dog because of its dangerous behavior, consult with your veterinarian and with your local animal care and control agency or the local Humane Society about your options.
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