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Insurers Paid $479 Million In Claims For Dog Bites Last Year

With National Dog Bite Prevention Week set to start Saturday, the Insurance Information Institute wants Americans to know that:

-- Insurers paid $479 million in home owner insurance claims involving dog bites last year, up 16.1 percent from the year before.

-- The number of such claims rose 3.3 percent, to 16,292.

-- The average cost per claim grew by 12.3 percent from the year before, to $29,296.

-- And the average cost per claim has soared 53.4 percent since 2003, when the institute began tracking those figures. That compares to a 22.3 percent increase in the consumer price index (which tracks inflation overall at the consumer level).

Institute spokeswoman Loretta Worters says medical costs and increases in the size of settlements, judgments and jury awards have combined to sharply boost the cost of claims related to dog bites.

The institute is one of several organizations working to promote dog bite prevention week. Among the others involved is, not surprisingly, the U.S. Postal Service, which says that 5,600 USPS employees were attacked by dogs last year. The Post Office is out with its annual list of the 25 cities with the most dog attacks involving its personnel.

According to USPS, Los Angeles led that list with 83 attacks in 2011. San Diego was second, with 68 attacks. Houston, Cleveland and Dallas followed, all with more than 40 attacks.

Speaking of mail carriers, why do dogs seem inclined to bite them? According to Bark magazine:

"The majority of dogs who bite do so because they are afraid. Fearful dogs are often especially scared of people who are carrying things, which puts people who deliver the mail at risk. Furthermore, these mail carriers turn their backs and walk away, an action that can give frightened dogs just enough confidence to act on their fears by biting."

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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