Family dog can be Grinch during holidays

The holidays are a time of year when people and animals often come together -- sometimes with unfortunate results.

"For the family dog, all the hustle and bustle and crowded gatherings can be stressful," said Dave Phillips, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance Co. in Concordville, Delaware County. "There are strange faces, excited children and changes in routine to their home.

"The outcome can be an unfortunate biting incident, or [serious] injury or death."

Animals don't always behave in predictable ways. There are 4.7 million victims of dog bites -- 50 percent of whom are children -- each year to prove it, according to the Insurance Information Institute in New York.

Dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2012, costing more than $489 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm, the largest writer of homeowners insurance in the U.S.

Pennsylvania, which had 165 dog bite claims last year totaling $4.5 million, is the No. 5 state for dog bite insurance claims, according to State Farm.

Neighboring Ohio ranked No. 4 with 235 dog bites, costing $5 million. California is the No. 1 dog bite state with 451 claims, totaling $17.1 million.

PG graphic: Dog bite claims decrease, costs increase
(Click image for larger version)

Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute, said when the institute analyzed homeowners insurance data, it found the number of claims fell by 1.4 percent in 2012 -- the first decline since 2010 -- but the costs of settling dog bite claims rose by 1.2 percent.

The average cost paid out for dog bite claims was $29,752 in 2012 compared with $29,396 in 2011.

She said while the decrease in claims is good news, the rise in claims costs suggests that medical costs -- as well as the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards given to plaintiffs -- are going up.

"It's a huge amount of money each year being spent on dog bite claims," she said. "There is concern by insurance companies that people will use aggressive dogs to deter burglars and such. But people aren't training their dogs properly, and that has a bearing on claims."

The U.S. Postal Service reports that 5,879 postal carriers were bitten or attacked by dogs in 2012, an increase of 274 incidents compared to 2011. The American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery reports there were 27,752 reconstructive procedures preformed in 2012 to repair injuries caused by dog bites.

And the American Humane Association reports that unsupervised newborns are 370 times more likely than an adult to be killed by a dog.

Tim Grant: or 412-263-1591.

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