Dog bites may be covered by your health insurance, although other types of insurance may also come into play. The exact type of coverage, if any, will depend on many factors.

These include: who owns the dog; what was happening when the dog bite occurred; and the specific types of coverage, stipulations, and definitions within any given insurance policy.

When Does Health Insurance Cover a Dog Bite?

If the dog bite was an accident, rather than a malicious attack or a response to malicious activity, health insurance may cover medical costs associated with the bite. The health insurance policy would have to be held by the person who was bitten, not by the dog’s owner or other party.

The health insurance policy would also have to have a definition of accident that was inclusive of a dog bite. Insurance policies typically have very strict wording related to what qualifies as an accident, so you would need to check your policy to determine if a dog bite is covered.

What Type of Insurance Covers a Dog Bite?

According to an article in The New York Times, dog bites are often covered by homeowner’s liability insurance, provided the coverage is extensive enough to include them. Liability insurance generally covers damages or injuries that happen on the homeowner’s property, although it may extend to cover damages or injuries caused by the homeowner’s dog while off the property.

Instead of the expenses related to a dog bite falling on the shoulders of the victim, the liability falls on the shoulders of the dog’s owner, Insurance Information Institute (III) President Robert Hartwig told the Times. Most homeowner or renter insurances include dog liability under the standard coverage, although a few caveats may exist.

Even if the homeowner or renter insurance covers dog bites from the get-go, things may change if your dog actually bites someone and damages are sought. Your overall premiums may increase and your insurance company may require you to take your dog for behavioral modification courses if you wish to continue coverage with that particular carrier.

Additional caveats include the fine print in your policy. ABC News reports that some homeowner or renter insurance policies may specifically exclude dog bites from the standard coverage. Others may exclude certain breeds that are statistically more likely to be aggressive.

If your particular homeowner or renter liability coverage does not extend to dog bites, ABC News notes that you can often invest in umbrella coverage from the same carrier. Umbrella coverage is designed to go beyond the standard homeowner or renter insurance by providing protection from a lawsuit in response to a situation or action for which you may be held liable.

The bottom line is that dog owners are responsible if their dog bites another person at their home or on any other private or public property. They are likewise responsible if their dog bites or injures another pet.

How Common (and Costly) are Dog Bites?

Dog bites are both common and expensive. An estimated 4.5 million people suffer from dog bites every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with more than 880,000 of them needing medical attention for injuries. Reconstructive surgery was required for more than 31,000 people bitten by dogs in 2006 alone.

The Insurance Information Institute reports that dog bite claim payouts reached nearly $479 million in 2011 – more than 30 percent of all claims paid out by homeowners’ liability insurance.

The average payout for dog bite claim was over $29,000 in 2011, an increase of more than 53% since 2003 and an increase of more than 12% from 2010. The III credits the increase in costs to the higher medical and healthcare costs, as well as inflation and an increase in the dollar amount of settlements and awards.

The costs go beyond the money paid out in claims. The American Veterinary Association notes that additional costs related to dog bites include hospital expenses, claims to health insurance companies, lost wages and sick leave expenses, and workmen’s compensation costs.

Who Gets Bitten Most Often?

Kids are at the top of the list as dog bite victims, according to the CDC. Children ages 5 to 9 are at the highest risk, although all children are more likely to be bitten than adults. Men have a higher risk of being bitten than women. The highest chance of being bitten goes to those with dogs in their homes.

How Can I Reduce The Risk of a Dog Bite?

Staying away from strange dogs is at the top of the list of bite prevention techniques, the Times says, especially if the dog happens to be confined or tethered on a tie-out. If a dog does appear to be threatening, avoiding eye contact is another good tip.

Running past a dog typically excites it and should be another activity to avoid. If a dog knocks you down on the ground, you may be able to reduce your chances of being bitten or at least suffering more severe injuries from a bite if you curl up into a ball and place your hands over your face.