Pet Insurance Blog

Pet Insurance vs Pet Liability Insurance: What's The Difference?

Kari Steere
Licensed Insurance Producer - Pawlicy Advisor
couple holding pit bull on leash

Viewing your four-legged family member as a potential liability is difficult but sometimes, even the most harmless and best-behaved pets can make mistakes. That’s why dog liability insurance is a must for any responsible pet owner.

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Viewing your four-legged family member as a potential liability is difficult but sometimes, even the most harmless and best-behaved pets can make mistakes. That’s why dog liability insurance is a must for any responsible pet owner.

If you are held financially responsible for someone else's injuries or property damage caused by your pet, then liability coverage can help pay for the cost — which could quickly add up to tens of thousands of dollars.

In this post, we’re looking at the intersection of pet insurance and liability insurance, including how each policy works and why you need these types of dog insurance.

Use the links below to learn more about pet insurance vs liability insurance:

Why do you need liability insurance for dogs?

According to the CDC, about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year. Of them, 885,000 sustain injuries that are serious enough to require medical attention, and about 368,000 require treatment in hospital emergency rooms.

When someone sustains a physical or psychological injury from a dog bite, they have the right to file a civil lawsuit in small claims court no matter how severe the injury, and irrregardless of whether any criminal charges are filed.

In 2020, the total cost of claims paid by insurance companies for dog-related injuries increased by 7.1%, reaching $853.7 million, which is up from $796.8 million in 2019. The average cost per claim in 2020 was $50,245, compared to $44,760 a year before.

California is generally thought to be one of the pet-friendliest states across the country, yet it continues to have the largest number of pet liability claims in the US (2,103 in 2020). Nebraska holds the title for the highest average cost per claim at $71,243. These claims were paid not for all kinds of dog-related injuries, including dog bites, as well as dogs knocking down kids, senior citizens, cyclists, etc.

In the event your dog causes such injury, a large claim can have a dramatic impact on your family finances, and pet liability insurance coverage will likely be your first line of defense.

Local and state legislation

Dog owners are liable for injuries their pets cause in 29 US states. In 17 US states and the District of Columbia, liability is not automatically granted but attacks are classified as misdemeanors or felonies. Four states (North Dakota, Mississippi, Kansas, and Arkansas) have no laws for dog bites.

There are three different kinds of law that impose liability on owners:

  • A dog-bite statute, according to which the owner is liable if their dog bites someone, as long as the person did not provoke the animal, and was not trespassing or breaking the law in any other way at the time of the incident.
  • The one-bite rule, where the owner could face liability for the dog's first bite if they know that the particular dog breed is dangerous, or if the particular animal is prone to biting.
  • Negligence laws, which state that the owner is liable if the injury occurred because they were unreasonably careless in controlling the animal.

Owners could also be charged with serious crimes if their pet attacks and seriously injures someone. In more extreme cases, when a dog kills someone because of the owner’s failure to control the animal or recklessness, the owner might be charged with negligent homicide or manslaughter. Some states have specific criminal laws applying to serious dog attacks. For instance, Florida authorizes criminal charges if a dog seriously injures or kills someone and the owner knew the pet was dangerous but ignored the risk.

How does pet liability insurance work?

Most renters and homeowners policies include liability insurance coverage up to a certain coverage limit. For instance, a homeowner's policy with $300,000 in coverage for personal injuries might have a $25,000 limit for claims related to animal-caused injuries. Other policies exclude certain dog breeds, all dogs, or accidents involving animals in general.

In other cases, the liability insurance included within your homeowners or renters policy may help cover damage your pet does to someone else's property (not your personal property or dwelling). For example, if your dog peed on a guest's laptop, or chewed up your neighbor's couch, liability insurance may cover the cost to replace it.

Renters insurance typically includes $100,000 in liability coverage, whereas homeowners insurance has between $100,000 and $300,000 of liability coverage. However, if you believe this amount isn’t enough, or if your policy doesn’t include dog bite insurance, you might consider umbrella insurance as an option.

An umbrella policy is additional liability coverage that is available as an add-on rider to your homeowners or renters insurance. Personal umbrella insurance kicks in when you reach the limit on the underlying liability coverage in a homeowners or renters policy. It also covers your legal fees in small claims court for civil offenses such as slander and libel. An umbrella insurance policy costs between $150 and $300 a year for $1 million of coverage.

Do I need additional canine insurance?

If you don't have homeowners or renters insurance with pet coverage, another option is to get separate policy for canine liability coverage. This may also be especially useful for those whose animals have a history of aggressive behavior, or belongs to a breed of dogs excluded by your home insurance company. Animal liability insurance can provide coverage that fills the gap created by exclusions in your umbrella, renters, or homeowners insurance policy.

The cost of this type of coverage depends on various factors, including the dog’s weight and breed, and can cost as little as $10 per month.

It should be noted that if a dog has a history of problematic behavior, even providers that specialize in dog bite insurance might refuse to provide coverage.

What dog breeds are excluded from liability coverage?

There are some dog breeds that insurance providers are hesitant to cover because they’re considered more dangerous or have a more sensitive temperament than others. The list varies by insurance company but usually excludes the following breeds:

Providers might change which kinds of incidents and dog breeds aren't covered, so when considering pet liability insurance, it’s best to check your renters or homeowners policy to see what type of coverage you have.

Pet insurance vs liability insurance - what's the difference?

Pet liability insurance is not pet health insurance. Pet insurance is health insurance for animals that can help lessen the (often expensive) cost of veterinary bills. It's typically offered to dogs and cats, although some companies like Nationwide pet insurance provide health insurance coverage for other types of pets such as reptiles, turtles, guinea pigs, etc.

Most pet insurance plans cover unexpected illnesses and injuries, tests and diagnostics, medication, surgeries, exam fees, and emergency care. Less comprehensive plans are generally cheaper and usually provide coverage for accidents only. Many pet insurance companies also offer wellness coverage (also referred to as “preventive care” coverage), which covers routine care services like spaying/neutering, microchipping, vaccinations, etc.

Pet liability insurance, on the other hand, covers injuries and damages your dog causes someone else — not any harm your dog accidentally does to his or her self. If your dog was attacked by another party's dog, pet liability insurance would not cover your animal's medical treatment, if necessary. If you were enrolled in a pet insurance policy, you could file a claim to get reimbursed for the costs spend out-of-pocket to treat the bite wound.

Where to buy pet liability insurance

The most popular companies that provide dog liability insurance include Lester Kalmanson, InsureMyK9, Einhorn Insurance, and Dean Insurance Agency (formerly Federation of Insured Dog Owners or F.I.D.O.). Some insurance providers, like Esurance, offer pet coverage with the typical home insurance policy, whereas others like X-Insurance offer liability insurance specific to exotic pets.

Some brokers sell both pet insurance and pet liability insurance (such as Trupanion Pet Insurance and State Farm Pet Insurance). With some companies, you could save up to 25% in premiums if you choose to bundle pet renters insurance, so be sure to check with your provider for available discounts.

If you have good homeowners or renters insurance with pet coverage, and your dog is docile and well-behaved, you might not need additional liability coverage through an umbrella rider or separate policy. Keep in mind, though, that nearly all dogs will experience health complications at some point in their life — and some more than others. A pet health insurance policy can save you from steep, unexpected vet bills that can easily reach into the thousands of dollars, and have a far higher chance of occurence.

Where to buy pet health insurance

If you're wondering where to buy pet insurance for dogs, Pawlicy Advisor makes it easy to view plans from top providers side-by-side. Coverage details, policy exclusions, and payment information are transparent and well-defined, so you'll always know how much financial protection you stand to gain by any given plan.

Click the button below fast and free pet insurance quotes, with customized plan recommendations based on your dog's unique details.

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Key Takeaways

  • Animal liability insurance protects you in the event of injuries or damages caused by your pet. It’s a form of third-party coverage, which means that it compensates others — not you or members of your household. Besides providing compensation for medical expenses or the cost to replace or repair damaged property, this type of insurance also protects you in case of a lawsuit.
  • Many renters and homeowners insurance policies provide personal liability protection. Depending on your location and the kind of dog you have, you might need to get separate canine liability insurance.
  • Even if your insurer doesn’t provide canine liability insurance, many other insurance companies will. Talk to your insurance company to find out what options you have when it comes to pet coverage.

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Kari Steer, Licensed P&C Insurance Agent at Pawlicy Advisor

Kari Steere
Licensed Insurance Producer - Pawlicy Advisor

Kari Steere is a licensed P&C insurance agent in all 50 states and has focused entirely on pet insurance since 2019. As an animal lover with a rescued Terrier named Barry, when she's not helping pet owners find the perfect plan on Pawlicy Advisor, she runs a ranch in Oregon and rehabilitates any animals that come across her path.

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