By Andrew Zashin*

Nearly half of all households in the United States have at least one dog. And in many of those households the dogs are considered, not just pets, but members of the family. But, unfortunately, sometimes dogs do bite. And, dog bites can and do lead to litigation.

Although breed-specific bans are in place in various municipalities in Ohio, the state of Ohio is a “breed-neutral” state, meaning that state law does not differentiate between so-called “dangerous” breeds such as pit bulls, (which is a sort of catch-all name for a number of different breeds such as the American pit bull terrier, American Staffordshire terrier, American bully and Staffordshire bull terrier) and other dog breeds.

Ohio law, generally, provides the owner or keeper of a dog can be liable for any injury caused by the dog, so long as the injured person was not trespassing or committing some other criminal offense or teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog, the dog’s owner or keeper, or the owner’s or keeper’s property. Depending on the nature of the claims made in a lawsuit, the owner also might be absolved of liability if he or she had no knowledge of any aggressive tendencies in the dog.

If you have a furry four-footed family member, what can you do to protect yourself from liability? Home owner’s and renter’s insurance policies often cover legal liability in dog bite cases, usually up to a maximum of $100,000 or $300,000, at least for the first claim.

When applying for a home owner’s or renter’s insurance policy, you may find that your insurer asks about whether or not you own a dog, the dog’s behavior and history, and even the breed, in an effort to assess the risk presented. That information will then likely be used to determine your premium costs. If you do end up with a claim, you might find yourself with a canine liability exclusion. In that case, you would have coverage for other types of claims, but not for dog bites. In such a situation, you will probably want to look to umbrella coverage, or even a special dog liability policy.

In the event that you find your coverage is limited, or even excluded altogether, an umbrella policy may be what you need. In essence, an umbrella policy increases the basic liability limits provided by your other policies, and would usually cover medical costs in the event of a dog bite injury, and even attorney fees should you be sued for such an injury.

This article originally appeared as a column for the Cleveland Jewish News.