My dog bit the mailman! Does my homeowner's policy cover the mailman's health bills?

By Insurance.com Posted : 07/11/2006

Dogs may be known as man`s best friend, but some mail carriers might disagree. That`s because dogs have bitten a goodly number of mail carriers over the years. Fortunately for you, if your beloved Fido grabs hold of the mail carrier and inflicts damage, most insurance industry experts would agree that your homeowner insurance policy should provide coverage for the postal worker`s bodily injury.

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Dog bites have serious repercussions for homeowners insurance. The Insurance Information Institute`s Robert Hartwig reports that dog bites account for about 25 percent of all homeowners insurance liability claims, and six percent of homeowner claim costs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year, resulting in about 800,000 injuries that require medical attention. More than half of dog bite victims are children.

Insurance trade organization attorney Eric Goldberg zeroes in on the homeowners` insurance contract. "Under the dog-bites-mail-carrier scenario, coverage would fall under the liability portion of your homeowners insurance contract," explains Goldberg, assistant general counsel for the American Insurance Association in Washington, D.C. The homeowners policy "typically would cover injuries to third parties caused by the policyholder`s negligence," says Goldberg. That could include an incident in which your dog bites the mail carrier who is on your property dropping letters into your mailbox.

However, Goldberg offered a word of caution. "Dog bite injuries are one of the leading causes of liability claims under homeowners policies, so some carriers might exclude that coverage. If you as a consumer are concerned about that exposure, be sure to check for such an exclusion in your homeowners insurance contract," Goldberg adds.

Something else to consider: even with homeowner policies that cover dog bite exposures, there are limits of coverage. The coverage amounts -- often $100,000 or $300,000 - may or may not be enough to cover all of the injured party`s medical bills and pain and suffering, according to Goldberg. That`s where umbrella protection would come in handy for the homeowner. Says Goldberg: "You would pay extra for, say, an additional amount $1 million of protection (umbrella) that would kick in where your homeowners insurance liability coverage leaves off."

Even if you don`t own a home, you should have insurance protection in the event your dog bites the letter carrier on your premises or runs down the block and bites the leg of one of your neighbors, according to Lynn Knauf, director of personal lines for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI), in Des Plaines, Ill. "Unfortunately, many renters don`t have renters insurance, and they should because they have assets to protect just like homeowners do. You can lose everything if your dog bites someone and the aggrieved party sues you. If you have renters or homeowners insurance, you`d likely be covered for third-party bodily injury caused by dog bites. But if you don`t have renters or homeowners insurance, you`re on the hook for medical bills, legal expenses and other costs."

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