Dogs: Bites, Breeds, and Insurability
If you’re a dog lover, you’re not alone. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, nearly 85 million dogs live in about 70 million U.S. households. The vast majority live peacefully with their furry friends, but about 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, most of them children.
Many of our clients are dog owners and have never had an incident with their dogs. But, however much we love them, an animal’s behavior can be unpredictable. In response to a recent uptick in instances where dog owners and animal rights organizations have banded together to protest what they deem to be “discriminatory practices by insurers” for canceling or declining homeowners coverage to dog owners, we wanted to provide you with this article on this trending topic.
Dog Bite Liability and Homeowners Insurance
It’s a fact that some property and casualty insurers won’t insure homeowners who own certain breeds of dogs that have been categorized as dangerous. For most people, pit bulls, Rottweilers, and Doberman pinschers come to mind. However, how individual property and casualty insurers determine rates and insurability for dog owners varies widely by company.
Some insurers decide on which dogs are considered dangerous on a case-by-case basis, considering whether an individual dog, regardless of breed, has been deemed vicious. And some insurers don’t even inquire about the breed of a dog when underwriting or renewing homeowners insurance, and they don’t track the breed of dogs involved in dog bite incidents.
However, once a dog has bitten someone it poses an increased risk, and insurers at that point may charge a higher premium, decline to renew the homeowner’s insurance policy, or exclude the animal from coverage.
Because of increases in the size of claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries, some insurers are limiting their exposure by requiring dog owners to sign liability waivers for dog bites, charging higher premiums for certain breeds, or not offering insurance to dog owners at all.
Homeowners Insurance Liability Claims
Aside from natural disasters and water damage, the three things that home insurance companies abhor most are swimming pools, trampolines, and dogs. The reason – they all generate large claims. In fact, the average dog bite claim has been about $50,425, according to the Insurance Information Institute (Triple-I).
The Institute also related these interesting facts concerning homeowners insurance liability claims that are dog-related:
- Liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries cost homeowners insurers $854 million in 2020
- The number of dog bite claims nationwide fell in 2020 to 16,991 from 17,802 in 2019—a 4.6 percent decrease.
- The average cost per claim increased by 12.3 percent in 2020 to $50,425 from $44,760 in 2019.
- The average cost per claim nationally has risen 162 percent from 2003 to 2020 due to increased medical expenses and the size of settlements, judgments, and jury awards given to plaintiffs, which are trending upwards.
- By state, California continues to have the largest number of claims in the United States, at 2,103 in 2020, down from 2,396 in 2019. The state with the second-highest number of claims was Florida, at 1,235. Nebraska had the highest average cost per claim at $71,243, followed by New York with an average cost of $66,817.
The trend in higher costs per claim is attributable not only to dog bites but also to dogs knocking down children, cyclists, the elderly, etc., which can result in injuries that impact the potential severity of the losses.
State and Local Legislation Varies Widely
Like insurers, states also aren’t uniform in how they address dog owners’ liability and insurability.
In 29 states, dog owners are liable for injuries caused by their pets, subject to some exceptions, such as if the animal was provoked. In 17 states and the District of Columbia, attacks are classified as misdemeanors or, in extreme cases, as felonies, with fines. Four states have no laws for dog bites – Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, and North Dakota.
Concerning homeowners insurance, at least three states prohibit insurers from denying or canceling coverage to the owners of particular dog breeds: New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. In addition, Ohio requires owners of dogs that have been classified as vicious to purchase at least $100,000 of liability insurance.
Does Your Dog Make the List?
Exactly which breeds of dog are considered dangerous and are restricted by an insurer varies by carrier and state. An aggressive dogs list might include:
- Pit bulls
- German shepherds
- Staffordshire terriers
- Chow chows
- Alaskan malamutes
- Doberman pinschers
- Great Danes
- Siberian huskies
- Presa Canarios
- Wolf hybrids
This list isn’t all-inclusive. Excepting the three states mentioned above, insurers determine which breeds are labeled dangerous or vicious.
Practical Advice for Kelly Klee Clients
One of the commitments we make to our clients is to provide expert advice in all matters related to finding the right coverage for high net worth individuals and families. Based on our experience and research, here are some tips for you concerning insuring your home as a dog owner.
If possible, contact us before bringing home a dog. Tell us about your future pet and let us perform due diligence, and ensure your home insurer will provide you the protection you need. We represent numerous top-tier insurers and will find you the right coverage.
Purchase a personal umbrella insurance policy to supplement the typical liability found on your homeowners policy. We partner with carriers that offer up to $100 million in personal umbrella and excess liability coverage.
Pass the Canine Good Citizen test from the American Kennel Club. The program helps dogs master ten basic skills that “instill confidence and good manners in and out of your home.”
If you have questions or concerns about the level of protection you have with your home insurer, call us today at (844) 885-1600. Our advisors will analyze your current policy, confirm the amount of protection you have, and prepare a comprehensive plan, if needed, to bolster your coverage.