It might seem like a bad time to think about insurance for your dog with COVID and everything else going on. However, you really should, especially if some people consider the breed as dangerous.
As a dog owner, you are responsible for what your dog does, including dog bite injuries. While you might think your dog wouldn’t hurt a fly, you could be wrong. If you are, that could open up a world of hurt for you and your pocket if your dog injures someone and you don’t have dog bite insurance.
At the very least, you should be shopping around for a policy at an affordable rate. You would then be ready when things go back to normal and BEFORE you start walking your dog again. Here is what you need to know.
As of 2016, about two-thirds of households in the US have pets, and of those, 78 million are dogs. That can be worrisome, as the Centers for Disease Control estimates that 4.5 million people are victims of dog bites every year, and about 20% (900,000) of those injuries require medical attention.
The problem is serious enough for insurance agencies to stand up and take notice. About 15,000 dog owners in the US filed claims against their home liability insurance for dog-related injuries in 2015, and this is actually the lowest number of files claimed every year since 2007!
Even then, claims made in 2015 have led to insurers paying out about $570 million at an average of $37,000 per claim, which was about 33% of all payouts made for that year. Some reasons for these high payouts are high medical costs and bigger settlements given by juries to plaintiffs.
Dog breed bias
Some dog breeds have certain characteristics that make them more likely or less likely to injure people. As a result, most insurance companies will have dog breed bias when it comes to covering certain breeds of dogs. Some have restrictions, while some outright refuse or even cancel existing homeowner’s insurance coverage for people who own specific dog breeds.
In some cases, the insurer will require homeowners to agree to waive any liabilities of the insurer for any injuries resulting from dog bites. In others, they will raise the premiums when a dog they cover is involved in injuring someone.
Among the breeds that come under this bias are:
- Alaskan Malamute
- Chow Chow
- Doberman Pinscher
- German Shepherd
- Pit Bull
- Siberian Husky
- Wolf Hybrid
As a dog owner of one of these breeds, you might feel outraged by this bias, but it is nothing personal. Insurance companies make money by not paying out money for claims, so they have to weigh the risks of covering certain dogs. If a dog breed is large and/or aggressive, the risks of an injury claim are much higher.
Having a dog of the high-risk breed in your home is not going to result automatically in a denial or restriction of coverage. However, it would warrant more review.
The breed is not the only consideration. Some insurers also look at the training received, personality, vaccination, and history of the dog in question. The insurer will also consider dogs used in therapy or as a service animal.
Despite the practical reasons stated by insurers behind dog breed bias, there has been some pushback on this. Some insurers disagree that refusing or restricting coverage based on breed alone is not a good determination of risk. Even a dog that bites occasionally does not mean it is dangerous as dogs typically do so when they are afraid.
The Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Animal Medical Center supports this with research, and criticizes insurers that subscribe to dog breed bias because it discriminates against owners that display responsibility by training and socializing their dogs properly.
Dog breed bias has also resulted in people avoiding owning and adopting dogs of these “blacklisted” breeds because it might keep them from getting homeowners’ liability insurance. This attitude also affects dogs of mixed breeds, as the determination could go against them if the dog appears to have qualities of a blacklisted breed.
Additionally, some breeds might simply be more popular than others are. This would skew the incidence of dog bites and lead to the false conclusion that some breeds are more likely to bite. A more accurate prediction of risk is to consider the behavior of the dog owner and the training of the individual dog. For example, dogs trained to be guard dogs, no matter the breed, are more likely to bite than dogs treated as part of a family.
Instead of penalizing owners for having certain dog breeds, insurers should motivate them to train and socialize their dogs properly. They also have the power to make dog owners more aware of their responsibilities towards their dogs and society as a whole, and thus reduce the incidence of bite claims and risk of payouts.
Insurers that will
Fortunately, some insurers in the US have a more inclusive policy when it comes to dog breeds. They will cover “blacklisted” dog breeds without equivocation.
- State Farm
They will not refuse or restrict coverage solely on breed. However, they will look at the history for aggression and bites of a dog before deciding to grant homeowners liability coverage to the dog owner. They might ask for certification from your veterinarian or obedience schools or have someone visit your home to meet the dog before making a final determination.
Some interesting facts
- Insurance companies in Michigan and Pennsylvania cannot legally exercise dog breed bias or “breed profiling” when writing homeowners policies. Other states do not have these legal restrictions.
- Some cities , counties, and states have a “one bite” statute that protect dog owners from liability for injuries resulting from a dog bite if it was the first time it happened. This implies that the dog owner had no knowledge of the potential of their dog for dangerous behavior.
- 36 states have a statutory strict liability for dog-related injuries and attacks, which means the dog owner is liable to the victims.
- Standard homeowners’ policies cover spouses and dependents under 21 years of age, but will not be able to file a claim if they are the victims of an attack. They also cover unpaid dog sitters and dog walkers if the dog bites them while in their care.
When buying dog owner insurance, you might come against dog breed bias or high premiums or both. In any case, it is important to shop around before finally deciding on the best coverage you can get in your state. You should ask many questions, including purchasing any riders for dog bite liability in case your existing insurance company does not cover certain dog breeds. If all else fails, call your state insurance commissioner’s office for help.