In 2010, State Farm -- the nation's largest insurer -- paid out more than $90 million associated with nearly 3,500 dog bite claims.

The company recently released a list of the top 10 states for State Farm dog-bite claims. States with large populations dominated -- California came in first with 369 claims worth $11.3 million in 2010 -- but you also want to give a wide berth to dogs in Minnesota (No. 8 with 139 claims and $3.4 million in payouts) and Indiana (No.10 with 114 claims and $1.8 million in payouts).

Paul says State Farm makes judgments about dogs on a case-by-case basis. The insurer may overlook a past isolated incident where a dog jumped up and scratched someone.

But an unprovoked attack is more likely to result in a decision not to insure. In that case, forget about getting a State Farm policy until you "no longer have that dog in your residence," Paul says.

Protecting yourself

If you have a dog with a particularly nasty disposition, there are things you can do to cut your risk of being sued. Paul's tips include:

  • Socialize your dog.
  • If you keep a dog in the backyard or outside, get a fence. "Chains can break very easily," Paul says.
  • Enroll your dog in obedience training.

Remember to exercise extra care whenever your dog is near a child. Kids make up half of all Americans who seek medical attention for dog bites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The consequences of such attacks can be heartbreaking.

"Children tend to get bitten more in the face because they are lower to the ground and at dog level," Paul says.

Also, renters with pets should never go without renters insurance, Paul says. Too many renters assume that anything that happens on the property is the landlord's responsibility, she says.

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"It's not up to the landlord to handle that claim," she says. "The cost falls on the renter."

While it's important for both homeowners and renters to lower their risk via insurance, using a little common sense is the best way to lower your risk of being the target of a dog-bite claim.

"Your best bet to avoid this issue is to be a responsible pet owner," Paul says.

This article was reported by Chris Kissell for Insurance.com.