The trend in jury awards and medical costs for dog bites is amean tale for carriers, according to the Insurance InformationInstitute, noting that homeowners insurance liability claims forsuch injuries are up 28 percent since 2003.

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Claims for canine bites are "sinking its teeth into homeownersinsurance costs," said I.I.I., noting that they account forone-third of all homeowners insurance liability costs--totaling$387.20 million in 2008, up 8.7 percent over 2007.

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The organization said its analysis found the total clawingupward even as the average cost of dog bite claims was $24,461 in2008 (the most recent figures available) down slightly from $24,511in 2007.

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The I.I.I. found the number of claims increased 8.89 percent to15,823 in 2008 from 14,531 in 2007.

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"The rise in dog bite claims over the course of the past fiveyears can be attributable to the increased medical costs as well asthe size of settlements, judgments and jury awards, which haverisen well above inflation in recent years," according to LorettaWorters, vice president of the I.I.I.

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The Institute noted that more than 4.5 million people in theUnited States are bitten by dogs annually, and nearly 900,000 ofthose--half of them children--require medical care, according tofigures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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More than 31,000 Americans needed reconstructive surgery afterdogs attacked them in 2006, CDC figures show. With more than 50percent of bites occurring on the dog owner's property, the issueis a major source of concern for insurers, the Institute noted.

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The I.I.I. mentioned that in some states, the owner is not heldliable for the first bite the dog inflicts. Once an animal hasdemonstrated vicious behavior, such as biting or otherwisedisplaying a "vicious propensity," the owner can be heldliable.

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However, some states, I.I.I. noted, have moved away from theone-bite rule, and hold owners responsible for any injury,regardless of whether the animal has previously bitten someone.

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"Although some people purchase dogs for the purpose of guardingtheir homes, deadbolt locks and home security systems are safeburglary deterrents and that will often earn you a discount on yourinsurance premium," said Ms. Worters.

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According to experts knowledgeable in the field, dog bite claimsgenerally result in big verdicts because juries are sympatheticwith the injured victims, due to the fact they are frequentlychildren.

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