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Your pooch might be a pussycat in your eyes, but your homeowner’s policy may not provide adequate coverage – and if he or she is on the “bad breeds” list used by most insurance companies, it might not cover you at all.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says nearly 4.5 million Americans are bitten every year, resulting in an estimated 885,000 injuries that require medical attention — and half of those bitten are children. According to the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm, dog bites accounted for more than 1/3 of all homeowner’s insurance liability claims paid out in 2012, totaling about $490 million. The average claim cost close to $30,000. And virtually all dogs, regardless of breed, will bite if provoked. And it’s not only dog bites you need to be concerned about. You, as a dog owner, can be responsible for any injuries that your dog causes, even if they are not intentional.

So what can you do to be proactive and protect yourself from a potential personal injury lawsuit?
Check your insurance policy, and if you don’t have adequate coverage, get it.

Get some training – not just for your dog, but for you and everyone in the family who handles him. (Contact The Humane Society of the Treasure Coast for information on class schedules.)

Spayed or neutered dogs are less likely to bite, so have your dog spayed or neutered as soon as you can. Note that eight weeks is not too young for healthy puppies.
Never leave a child younger than ten alone with your dog – even your own child. And teach your children to treat your dog properly, i.e. gently and with respect.
Give your dog enough room to exercise and play – in a fenced area. If you don’t have enough outside space for that, make sure to walk him regularly – on a leash.

If you don’t have a dog but are thinking about adding one to your family, check the governing documents for your homeowners association or condominium. Many include covenants that ban specific breeds.

Our family dog, Marley, is as sweet as they come, but we take nothing for granted, and neither should you.

Gene Zweben
Gene Zweben
Gene is the managing partner of Zweben Law Group located in Stuart, Florida. Gene's practice focuses on litigating plaintiff's cases throughout the State of Florida and has significant experience in: personal injury, medical malpractice, premises liability, wrongful death, Americans with Disabilities Act litigation, family law and general civil cases.

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