How Personal Umbrella and Excess Liability Policies Respond to Animal Liability Claims

In the United States, there are over 4.7 million injuries from dog bites every year with 900,000 requiring medical treatment. In 2009 alone, insurance paid $412 million in dog bite claims with the average claim costing $24,000. Although 50 percent of all bites happen at the residence where the dog lives, not all homeowners policies cover animal liability so the question becomes “how do personal umbrella and excess liability policies respond to animal liability claims?”

Not all excess liability policies respond the same so it is very important to read the excess or umbrella policy carefully to determine if and how it responds to an animal liability claim. With an umbrella policy, coverage is typically increased by $1 million or more and provides coverage that the underlying polices do not. Pertaining to animal liability in particular, oftentimes an umbrella will provide coverage contingent on a “self-insured retention” which is usually around $1,000. Unlike an umbrella policy excess liability policies typically only provide higher limits of liability above the underlying policies and therefore would exclude any coverages that were excluded in the underlying policies. For example, if animal liability is excluded from the underlying homeowners policy, it will most likely be excluded from the excess liability policy.

So where is an insured most-likely to find coverage for an animal liability claim? If the underlying homeowners policy excludes it, the umbrella policy is the most likely to respond. But as mentioned earlier, it is crucial to carefully read the policies because each policy is different. There are also markets for stand-alone animal liability coverage. For insureds with dogs, it is best to call your agent to ensure the proper coverage before faced with an animal liability claim - $24,000 is one expensive dog!