When shopping for homeowners insurance most consumers don’t give much thought to their pets – but, their insurer might. As it turns out, some insurance companies consider certain breeds, especially pit bulls, to be a high risk of potential liability and lawsuits from dog bites, leading to substantial medical costs, settlement size, and corresponding payouts.
Breed bias is entirely up to the individual insurer as well as the agent writing up your policy. You might think of your pit bull as sweet and cuddly, but your agent may have a different opinion as a result of the breed’s bad press and reputation over recent years and label your lovable pooch as too dangerous to provide you with coverage.
While it might seem silly that in many states your dog’s breed can dictate an insurance company’s willingness to cover your home, to your insurer it all comes down to financial considerations. In other words, protecting your residence from fire and theft is one thing, but dog bites are another.
Owning a “dangerous breed” makes insurance carriers leery because they believe it’s more a matter of “when” the dog will attack rather than “if”, according to Howard Bergstein, president of independent insurance agency, Erich Courant & Co.
Looking at it from your insurer’s perspective – dog bites have become a major financial burden for the insurance industry. In fact, the most recent claim statistic from the Insurance Information Institute showed that dog bites and dog-related injuries accounted for more than one third of all homeowners insurance liability claims paid out in 2014, which amounted to over $530 million dollars and an average claim payout of nearly $32,000.
However, because actual costs could be much higher, you have to make sure your coverage is enough – just in case. For example, should the injured party be critically injured or maimed as a result of your dog attacking them, you could lose your home if your homeowners insurance or renters insurance policy is limited to $100,000 liability coverage and you’re sued for millions.
Each May, in conjunction with National Dog Bite Prevention Week, insurance companies issue their list of breeds they deem to be dangerous and, thus, result in your possibly being denied coverage according to their criteria.
- American pit bull terrier
- American Staffordshire terrier
- Bull terrier
- Wolf hybrids
- Doberman pinschers
- Olde English bulldogs
- German shepherds
- Siberian huskies
- Alaskan malamutes
- Presa canarios
- Great Danes
- Saint Bernards
Of course, you may or may not agree with this list if your version of man’s best friend is on it, but you’re not the one making the final decision – your insurance company is.
Availability of coverage may differ by state and regulations. That said, in California, Farmers Insurance recently announced it would cease coverage for bites involving Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, and wolf hybrids because the three breeds were responsible for 25 percent of all dog bite claims in the state.
Remember – your homeowners insurance company holds all the cards. Granting you coverage to protect your home as well as your dog is entirely at their discretion. While they may not cancel your homeowners policy outright for owning a pit bull or other dog breed on the dangerous list, showing your insurer you’re a responsible dog owner can go a long way in your quest for coverage.
Previous incidents will be held against you. If you have had a dog bite claim in the past, your insurer may opt to not renew your policy, forcing you to get liability coverage elsewhere.
In the end, shop around. The minimum amount of liability coverage you should carry as part of your homeowners or renters policy is recommended at $100,000. Better yet, you may want to consider buying a separate $1,000,000 umbrella policy to protect yourself in the event your dog bites someone. According to the Insurance Information Institute, the typical policy is quite affordable, ranging from about $150 to $300 per year.
There are plenty of canine-friendly insurers out there, so, if your insurer decides to keep Fido out of your policy, it’s good to know you do have options.