Dog Bite Claims Cost Insurers $479 Million in 2011

“Dog attacks accounted for more than one-third of all homeowner insurance liability claims paid out in 2011,” said Robert Hartwig, Insurance Information Institute president and chief economist.

State Farm said it paid more than $109 million as a result of the nearly 3,800 dog bite claims in 2011, and the Insurance Information Institute estimates that in 2011, insurers across the country paid nearly $479 million in dog bite claims.

“Dog attacks accounted for more than one-third of all homeowner insurance liability claims paid out in 2011,” said Robert Hartwig, Insurance Information Institute president and chief economist.

Of the 4.7 million Americans bitten by dogs annually, more than half are children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, between 12 and 20 people die from dog attacks annually. The U.S. Postal Service, the medical community, veterinarians, and the insurance industry are working together to educate the public that dog bites are avoidable.

The Postal Service has released its ranking of the top cities for dog attacks to letter carriers to kick off National Dog Bite Prevention Week, May 19-25. The annual event provides dog-bite prevention tips, information on responsible pet ownership and advice about medical treatment if attacked. The top cities for dog attacks are Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, Cleveland, Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix, Denver and Sacramento, Minneapolis and St. Louis, and Louisville, Ky.

“‘Don’t worry—my dog won’t bite’ is often heard by our letter carriers before they’re attacked,” said Mark Anderson, postmaster of Los Angeles, where 83 of nearly 5,600 postal employees nationwide were attacked last year. “Given the right circumstances, any dog can attack. Dog attacks are a nationwide issue and not just a postal problem. Working with animal behavior experts, we’ve developed tips to avoid dog attacks, and for dog owners, tips for practicing responsible pet ownership.”

Letter carriers fearing for their safety due to a loose or unrestrained pet may stop delivery and ask homeowners to pick up their mail at the Post Office until the pet is restrained. In cases where a carrier sees a dog roaming and can’t discern where it resides, delivery could be interrupted to the entire neighborhood.

  • Nationwide last year, 5,577 postal employees were attacked in more than 1,400 cities. Medical expenses from dog attacks cost the Postal Service nearly $1.2 million last year.
  • “Children are three times more likely than adults to be bitten by a dog,” said Prevent The Bite President Kathy Voigt, whose daughter, Kelly, was mauled by a neighborhood dog. “Education is essential to keeping children safe from dog bites.”
  • According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, in 2011, more than 29,000 reconstructive procedures were performed as a result of injuries caused by dog bites. Michael Neumeister, M.D., ASRM president said, “Even the friendliest dog may bite when startled or surprised.”

The National Dog Bite Prevention Week partners offer the following tips:

Avoiding Attacks

  • Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.
  • Don’t run past a dog. The dog’s natural instinct is to chase and catch you.
  • If a dog threatens you, don’t scream. Avoid eye contact. Try to remain motionless until the dog leaves, then back away slowly until the dog is out of sight.
  • Never approach a strange dog, especially one that’s tethered or confined.
  • Don’t disturb a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
  • Anyone wanting to pet a dog should first obtain permission from the owner.
  • Always let a dog see and sniff you before petting the animal.
  • If you believe a dog is about to attack you, try to place something between yourself and the dog, such as a backpack or a bicycle.
  • If you are knocked down by a dog, curl into a ball and protect your face with your hands.

Be a Responsible Dog Owner

  • Obedience training can teach a dog to behave properly and help owners control their dogs.
  • When letter carriers and others who are not familiar with your dog come to your home, keep your dog inside, in another room away from the door.
  • In protecting their territory, dogs may interpret people’s actions as a threat.
  • Spay or neuter your dog. Neutered dogs are less likely to roam.
  • Dogs that receive little attention or handling or are left tied up for long periods of time frequently turn into biters.

If Bitten

  • Rinse the bite area with soapy water.
  • Elevate limb(s) that have been bitten.
  • Apply antiseptic lotion or cream. Watch the area for signs of infection for several days after the incident.
  • For deeper bites or puncture wounds, apply pressure with a clean bandage or towel to stop the bleeding. Then wash the wound, dry it, and cover with a sterile dressing. Don’t use tape or butterfly bandages to close the wound.
  • It’s a good idea to call your child’s physician because a bite could require antibiotics or a tetanus shot. The doctor also can help you to report the incident.
  • If your child is bitten severely, call 911 or go to the emergency room.
  • When going to the emergency room, advise the personnel of your tetanus vaccination status, vaccine status of the dog, who the dog owner is, and if the dog has bitten before.

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