You’re probably interested in pet insurance to make sure you can pay for any veterinary care your dog or cat might need. But some pet insurance policies also include third party liability cover, or legal cover and many dog owners overlook just how important it might be.
You might see it called different things by different pet insurers:
Legal action cover
Public liability cover
Third party liability insurance
We like to say what we mean, so in our policy documents we call it ‘cover for legal action against your pet’ and all of our dog insurance policies include it as standard.
It’s not included with dog insurance policies from all providers though, so always check. Some will ask you to pay extra to add this cover to your policy.
So what is it, do you need it and why does it only cover dogs and not cats?
What’s public liability cover for dogs for?
If you drive a car, you’ve probably come across third-party insurance before. It’s the minimum legal level of car insurance you need and covers the costs if you cause damage or injury to someone else or their property. Third party cover for your dog works in just the same way.
But in the UK, there’s no legal requirement to have pet insurance for either dogs or cats, which means you could be left facing some very high legal bills if your pet harms a person, another pet of someone else’s property.
In the most extreme cases, these costs could run to millions of pounds when you take into account damages and costly legal fees.
It’s valuable protection for when the unexpected happens. You might think you’ve got the best dog in the world (and you’re probably right!) so you don’t need this cover – but accidents can happen in the blink of an eye to any dog and owner.
Third-party liability insurance can cover you if:
Your dog bites someone or causes an injury
Your dog injures another dog, a cat or livestock
Your dog slips their lead, runs into the road and causes a car to swerve and hit a lamp-post
Your dog damages someone else’s property outside your home. For incidents in your house you’ll need home insurance that covers pet damage
This type of pet insurance can cover the costs of legal fees to defend you and your dog. If you lose your case it can cover the other person’s vet or medical bills and the cost to repair any damage to property.
To give you an idea of the sorts of things third-party claims tend to cover, we analysed claims received between July 2018 and March 2022:
The biggest reason for claiming was because the dog had bitten a person (29%)
The second biggest reason was other injuries to people, which were either unspecified or for things like dogs running into people, knocking into them, jumping up or even people falling over them (24%)
Another major reason for claims was bites and attacks on other dogs (22%)
A small amount of claims were for attacking other animals, including chickens and sheep (3%)
Damage to cars, sadly usually caused by the dog being hit by the car (13%)
Other damage to property. Some was unspecified but the claims with details were for anything from clumsy dogs treading on or knocking into other dogs, torn clothing or damaged carpet (9%)
How much is third party liability insurance for dogs?
We include cover for legal action against your pet as standard with all our dog insurance policies, but not all pet insurance providers do.
Some insurers will add it but charge extra for it, although it’s usually fairly inexpensive compared with the cost of your main pet insurance policy.
You can also buy public liability cover for dogs as a stand-alone policy from some providers. This is usually considerably cheaper than pet insurance that includes cover for vet fees, but remember you won’t be covered for your own dog’s vet bills with third-party only cover.
Dogs Trust includes public liability insurance if you become a member. Membership costs £25 a year, so it can be a cost-effective way of getting cover for public liability if you don’t want conventional pet insurance.
Self-insurance and third party cover
Some people choose to ‘self-insure’ to pay for vet bills. They simply put money aside monthly instead of paying for insurance. While that might be the right strategy for you, it does leave you without third party liability cover for your dog.
Make sure you understand the implications of that. For peace of mind you might want to take out a stand-alone third-party liability policy for your dog alongside your self-insurance plan.
Why don't cats have third party liability cover?
It’s all because of the different way the law treats cats and dogs.
Dogs are seen as completely the owner’s responsibility and they’re mentioned in the Road Traffic Act and Dangerous Dogs Act. They must be in control in public places and that’s why any harm or damage caused is also the owner’s responsibility.
Cats, on the other hand, are treated as ‘free spirits’ by the law. That means owners aren’t held responsible for their behaviour when they’re out and about.
What isn’t covered by third party liability insurance?
Check the terms and conditions of your pet insurance policy to make sure your dog’s covered by their third party liability terms. most won’t cover any dogs that have ever showed signs of aggression to or bitten people or other animals.
Some typical exclusions are:
Dogs that are categorised as dangerous dog breeds under the Dangerous Dog Act 1991
Dogs that you don’t own
Dogs that have been trained to attack
Dogs used for guarding, coursing, racing or fighting
Insurers may also refuse to pay a claim where you have admitted you’re at fault, or where you or your pet has broken any laws, rules or regulations.
What to do if your dog bites someone
It’s every owner’s worst nightmare, but sometimes accidents happen and you could find yourself facing a situation where your dog has bitten a person or another animal. Here’s what to do.
Control the situation – If your dog was off lead, get them back on immediately and remove them from the immediate situation. But do not leave the scene. If there was a fight between your dog and another, leave it to the other dog’s owner to re-leash their own dog. You don’t want to risk being bitten by someone else’s pet trying to defend itself.
First aid – Assess any people or animals that are injured. Offer to call an ambulance if it’s needed. If anyone needs to leave to seek medical or veterinary attention, make sure they have your contact details.
Remain calm, helpful and factual – Make sure everyone gets the help they need at the scene but remember, you shouldn’t admit responsibility. Feelings will be running high and it’s hard to see the full picture at the time. It’s the job of insurance companies to decide where liability lies, just like they do after a car accident.
Contact your pet insurer – You need to let your insurance provider know what’s happened as soon as possible. it can be very upsetting or embarrassing to admit your dog’s bitten someone, but any dog can be unpredictable in the wrong set of circumstances and that’s what this cover is for. They’ll tell you what you need to do next.
You’ll probably be feeling very upset in the wake of the incident, but one-off dog bite incidents do happen. It’s your job now to make sure it never happens again.
Take practical steps to avoid any future incidents, for example you could consider muzzle training your dog if it’s left you feeling under-confident and booking some sessions with a qualified trainer.
It’s a good idea to make an appointment with your vet to try to get to the root of the cause. Sometimes an underlying health problem can cause a dog to lash out.
Your vet may also recommend some behavioural treatment. Our pet insurance policies cover behavioural treatment where you’ve been referred by your vet.