Dog Tip: Insurance-Related Issues
By Robin Tierney
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This Dog Tip covers:
PAW adopter Susan John submitted the following item from a recent newsletter from the Humane Society of the United States:
- A Humane Society of the U.S. effort to help make it easier for dog owners to get homeowner insurance.
- Insurance companies that typically will cover dogs.
- News excerpts explaining insurance company concerns and issues.
- Ways to increase your chances of getting and keeping homeowner and renter insurance.
- A link to an excellent article about insurance-related dog law...links to some related news articles...and a recommended book about Dog Law.
"In recent years, many homeowners have found themselves either unable to get homeowner's insurance or have had their insurance cancelled, based solely on the breed of a dog in their household. The HSUS is working to address this problem and is gathering contact information and stories from those who have experienced this dilemma. If you or someone you know has been denied homeowner's insurance or has been unable to obtain it based on the breed of dog in their home, please contact The HSUS." There's a form you can complete at
The difficulties of getting home insurance are compounded by developments in the insurance industry over the past few years related to issues ranging from disaster-related pay-outs and high settlements for trip-and-fall accidents to storm damage and mold-related claims.
PAW adopter Donna Leader suggests that it is good to be aware of insurance companies that do not discriminate against dog owners or to certain breeds.
Here are some companies that contacts have reported are dog-friendly and tend not to discriminate by breed: State Farm, Farmers Insurance Group, Travelers, Liberty Mutual, United Services Automobile Association, Erie, Fireman's Fund, Kemper, Chubb Group, Allstate and Safeco Corp. NOTE: This list was compiled several years ago, so do your own search as well.
Ways to improve your chances of getting and keeping homeowner and renter's insurance:
- It is extremely difficult to get insurance from most insurers on a dog that has bitten, according to Tom Terfinko at the Florida Department of Insurance, as quoted in a January 2001 article in the Orlando Sentinel. For safety and liability reasons, it's essential for pet owners to teach dogs not to bite and to eliminate situations in which a dog might be prone to biting.
- Since the mid-1990s, with the growing popularity of aggressive breeds as a result of security concerns, dog attacks have become the biggest single cause of home policy claims, with costs running to more than $300 million a year, said Robert P. Hartwig, chief economist of the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group. (From a March 30, 2002 New York Times article.)
- "If the dog is growling or aggressive, that's pretty much a tip-off that you could have a problem dog," said Dan Hattaway, a specialist on home insurance at State Farm. Mr. Hattaway said State Farm did not think blacklisting of breeds was an effective way to screen for danger. "Simply by naming a breed," he said, "people are screening out a fair percentage of good dogs. Just because someone is a Rottweiler fancier doesn't mean they have a dangerous or aggressive dog." (From a March 30, 2002 New York Times article.)
- In some cases, an insurance company might send a representative to check out a homeowner's pet in his home environment. According to the article "No Good Dogs: So Say Some Insurers" in the May 1999 issue of Your Dog newsletter, home inspectors look for basic things such as: Whether the yard fenced in...how well the animal is cared for...whether the animal is properly licensed (most biting dogs are not)...whether the dog has been neutered (neutered dogs are much less prone to biting)...and whether the owner has provided training to the dog.
- Tom Terfinko at the Florida Department of Insurance says most insurance companies now screen potential customers based on what type of dog they own. For someone trying to buy a house, getting insurance is as important as getting a mortgage. It is not an option; it's a must. Home buyers can already be pressed to find affordable insurance in a state plagued by hurricanes, tornadoes, fires and floods. Adding a vicious dog to the mix could be a killer for buyers in need of a good insurance policy. (From the Orlando Sentinel 2001.)
- Enroll your dog in obedience classes and work on helping the dog earn a diploma. Consider taking your dog to obtain Canine Good Citizen certification.
- Neuter male dogs: this step can significantly reduce dominance problems and some other types of aggression.
- Make sure your dog gets lots of appropriate exercise. Dogs with predatory or herding instincts need to channel those inherent tendencies in socially acceptable ways.
- Keep dogs on leash or in a fully, physically fenced area when outside. That will keep dogs from running after animals and people.
- Never leave young children alone with a dog.
- Teach children (and adults) how to behave around animals. For example, don't disturb dogs while sleeping or eating. Don't bother mother dogs who are with their puppies. Don't tease or yell around dogs. Stay away from unfamiliar dogs or chained dogs. Note: chaining tends to aggravate and frustrate dogs, increasing the chances of aggressive behavior.
- Be aware of the signals that you yourself send to your dog. For example, if you are nervous, that can make your dog nervous. If you are not confident around strangers, do not walk your dog near strangers.
- Demonstrate what it means to be a responsible dog owner. Wisconsin Academy of Trial Lawyers, whose members often represent victims of dog attacks, maintains that at a time when dog-related injuries seem to be increasing it is unwise for government entities to reduce the consequences of irresponsible dog ownership.
The following insurance-related suggestions for dog owners come from PAW volunteer Marsha Rader, who is a specialist in insurance issues.
For more information about home insurance for dog owners:
- If a dog bites someone in response to constant teasing and/or cruelty by that person, the dog's owner can gain a better legal position by notifying the person (or parents in the case of children) that he/she has observed the teasing or cruelty. This notification should be made both verbally and in writing by mail (certified mail is recommended). The owner should keep a record of the events. If the actions are serious enough (rocks thrown, hitting with sticks, etc.), the incidents should be reported to the local police and/or animal control department and humane organizations. By setting up this "paper trail," the owner is documenting animal cruelty, for which the law could mandate psychological treatment or possibly jail for the offender, as well as establishing a legal defense if the provoked dog bites in defense.
- The Maryland Insurance Department has struck down some dog breed-specific insurance bans in court. However, some companies still try to force people to accept such bans on their Homeowners and other liability policies. The bans are typically directed at breeds such as Rottweilers, pit bulls and shepherds. If a homeowner receives a letter or requirement from an insurance company that would exclude insurance coverage, especially if the dog has not bitten anyone, the homeowner should contact the Maryland Insurance Administration immediately at 410-468-2000 or 1-800-492-6116 and file a written protest, since this sort of action has been held illegal in Maryland in the past.
- Dog owners, be aware that an insurance company could potentially find a way to impose a dog exclusion or cancel a policy, depending on the municipality's vicious dog laws (invoked if a dog has bitten) or any breed bans in place. For example, an insurance company could cite exclusions in a homeowner's policy about not covering damage or injury caused by a dog who was not supposed to be in the county.
FYI, be aware that a few homeowners associations have enacted or attempted to enact rules and regulations that discriminate among dog breeds.
Articles on the Web:
How Dog Owners Can Avoid Being Bitten by a Lawsuit
Insurance Resource Center
The Ultimate Guide to Homeowners Insurance for Dog Owners
Canine Good Citizenship Certification
Information on Renting with Companion Animals in Maryland, and for any Marylanders with pit bulls
"Dog Law" by Attorney Mary Randolph
For more of Robin's Dog Tips, see the index at:
Partnership for Animal Welfare
P.O. Box 1074, Greenbelt, MD 20768
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