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A column in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by Jim Stingl describes a dog owner’s problem obtaining liability insurance following an incident in which her dog ran out of the yard and bit a neighbor. Because Wisconsin has a statute (174.02, Wis.Stats) that awards double damages to a victim of a dog that has bitten before, most liability insurers will refuse to insure a homeowner who does not get rid of the dog, and apparently some require evidence that the dog has been put down before accepting the business.

Dog attack settlements can be large, especially for children who sustain facial scars and emotional trauma. With the prospect of double damages for victims of dog attacks where the dog has bitten before, it is not surprising that the insurers would refuse the risk. Dogs are often unpredictable and when unleashed they are usually uncontrollable–exactly the kind of risks insurers avoid.

One can sympathize with pet owners faced with this predicament, but it does promote safe practices by dog owners, from leashing their dogs to selecting less violent breeds. Owners are also more likely to carry higher insurance limits, which operates to protect victims from going uncompensated. And where the dog has demonstrated vicious behavior, the prospect of losing liability coverage will encourage owners to consider euthanizing the animal.

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