Keven Moore: Liabilities of dog owners; as much as we love them, know risks

Americans love their dogs. There are roughly 78 million dogs in the United States, according to the American Veterinary Association. If you are one of these owners then you know that sharing your home with dogs can indeed be pleasing and gratifying. They provide companionship and comfort and encourage outdoor enjoyment. However, it’s essential to recognize that even well-trained and docile dogs can exhibit unpredictable behavior, which may lead to potential risks.

As a former dog owner, still recovering from the emotions of having to euthanize our family pet of nearly 16 years, I understand the joys of being a responsible pet owner. But as a risk management and safety professional I also understanding the financial implications of your pet’s actions can be a risk exposure to your wallet.

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at

For instance, if your dog bites someone — a guest, neighbor, or passerby — you could face significant financial consequences.

Given the large dog population in the country, it’s unsurprising that dog bites are a common occurrence. Approximately 40 fatalities occur each year due to dog bites. While not all bites are fatal, non-fatal incidents can still result in significant injuries and infections. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 1 in 5 people bitten by dogs require medical attention.”

Some dog owners often mistakenly believe that their adorable pets cannot cause significant harm. However, this misconception can be costly to their wallets. According to the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I), nearly 4.5 million Americans (many of whom are children) are bitten by dogs annually. The number of claims against homeowners’ insurance for dog-related injuries and the average cost per claim have both increased in recent years. In 2023 alone, liability claims arising from bites and other dog-related injuries resulted in nearly $1.2 billion in costs for homeowners’ insurance carriers.

Even a small, usually well-behaved dog can inflict significant harm on a person, leading to substantial medical bills and other financial losses.” Just recently in 2023 a jury awarded a Gainesville, GA High teacher, Stacy Finelli, a $5.6 million verdict from a Hall County jury after a severe attack by a Labrador/Pitbull mix owned by her neighbors. The incident occurred while Stacy was returning misdelivered mail. After the attack she underwent five surgeries and physical therapy due to the attack.

Understand your owner’s liability. (Photo provided)

In 29 states, dog owners are legally responsible for injuries caused by their dogs, with some exceptions. However, in 17 other states and the District of Columbia, dog owners are not automatically liable for their pets’ actions. Still, dog attacks can be considered misdemeanors or even felonies. Insurance companies may adjust rates or deny coverage based on specific breeds, although some states prohibit such practices.

Generally, three types of laws may apply if your dog injures someone:

• Dog-bite statutes may automatically consider you liable for unprovoked bodily injuries or property damage caused by your pet.

• A one-bite rule may hold you responsible for injuries caused by your dog if the victim can prove that you were aware of the dangers your pet presented.

• Negligence laws may consider you at fault if an incident occurred due to your carelessness, negligence, or failure to control your pet. 

Dog attacks can result in fines and legal consequences. In some cases, individuals have faced charges like murder or involuntary manslaughter due to their dogs’ actions. To mitigate risks, dog owners should research their state’s dog-bite liability laws and take preventive measures.

In Kentucky, dog owners are strictly liable for injuries caused by their dogs. This means that if your dog bites someone unprovoked, the owner is automatically liable for any resulting injuries.

Unlike some states with negligence laws, where liability depends on the owner’s carelessness, Kentucky holds owners accountable regardless of prior knowledge about the dog’s dangerous tendencies.

Given the financial and legal risks associated with dog bites, having adequate insurance coverage is crucial. Standard homeowners’ insurance typically includes personal liability coverage that extends to your spouse, children, and pets. If your dog injures someone or damages property, this coverage can help with medical bills and financial losses.

However, be aware of breed restrictions and exclusions. Personal liability coverage doesn’t apply to injuries within your household.

For extra protection, consider personal umbrella insurance, which provides additional liability coverage beyond your homeowners policy limits.

We love our pets. (Photo provided)

While having suitable insurance can help limit the financial consequences of your dog biting someone, keeping an incident from occurring in the first place is ideal. Consider the following strategies to minimize the chance of your dog harming someone:

• Training: Enroll your dog in training classes and reinforce these lessons at home, especially focusing on curbing aggressive behavior.

• Spaying/Neutering: Consider spaying or neutering your dog to reduce unpredictability, adventurousness, and aggression.

• Socialization: Introduce your dog to various people and environments to help them feel more at ease in unfamiliar situations.

• Predictable Environments: Avoid situations where you can’t anticipate your dog’s reaction. If needed, confine them to a room or kennel during social gatherings.

• Breed Awareness: Understand your dog’s breed and behavioral tendencies, including potential triggers.

• Leash Control and Fencing: Follow leash laws and ensure your yard fencing is secure to contain your dog.

• Children Caution: Be extra cautious with your dog around young children, as they are most commonly bitten.

• Health Maintenance: Regular veterinary care is crucial; sick or painful dogs may be more prone to aggression.

• Behavior Recognition: Learn to recognize signs of agitation or stress in your dog and be prepared to de-escalate situations when others are present.

If after reading this, you are still concerned about your coverage limits, you can consider adding umbrellas insurance to provide extra liability coverage over top of your homeowners policy.

Be Safe My Friends!

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