If your pet bites, the reprocussions could be hug - Take steps to limit liabity  (Ocean | Corbis | Getty Images )

It has always been a smart idea to keep proper control of your dog both indoors and outside the home, but new developments in the law now make that good habit a vital aspect of personal responsibility. In the past a minor dog (or cat) bite might have resulted in an argument with a neighbor or a small cash settlement with a stranger. Recent cases and legislation, however, mean that these sorts of bites can have serious financial consequences for a pet owner.

What’s the big deal about animals biting people and other animals? Isn’t it just a quick trip to the walk-in clinic along with a corresponding apology? That thinking is sooo outdated. In today’s world of litigious folks, aggressive attorneys and new theories of recovery, there is real money available to animal bite victims and their legal counsel. And many people out there are ready and willing to take advantage of that unexpected cash. So how should you protect yourself?  What is the best route to follow should your pet bite one of your guests or run off and nip an innocent bystander?

Trade Detailed Identification Information
Once your dog has bitten the person or pet of another, there is no point in trying to avoid responsibility. Instead, stepping up and demonstrating genuine compassion for the injured party is a much more effective strategy. First, it is simply the right thing to do. Second, it is the best legal strategy.   

Bite cases frequently lead to personal injury trials and/or insurance settlements. If evidence emerges that the dog owner deliberately tried to stonewall the victim’s request for his identity or that he simply walked away from the scene, his insurance company may end up having to pay even more.  Should a trial ensue, such evidence looks terrible; juries get very generous when they hear proof that a dog owner tried to “leave the scene of the accident.”

Contact Your Insurance Agent Immediately      
Many homeowner insurance policies and some renter’s insurance policies cover dog bite claims up to certain limits. If the injuries involved are minor, a policyholder may or may not decide to make an insurance claim for monies owed to a bite victim. But keep in mind that if an insured individual fails to report the incident to his agent in a timely fashion, he may later be unable to receive reimbursement or even make a belated claim.

If your dog bites someone and you notify your insurance agent right away, he can advise you of any policy-related time limitations. If the bite turns out to be very minor, (for example, costs less than your deductible) you can decide to pay money “out-of-pocket” and skip the insurance paperwork (with the possible subsequent increase in your premium).

But if you do not notify your insurance agent or insurance carrier of the event, you may be out of luck when a minor skin injury turns into a horrific nonhealing wound because the victim happened to be diabetic, immune-suppressed, or allergic to antibiotics.