Insuring ‘man’s best friend’

REVISED April 24, 2015: A note of thanks to Debbie TurnerDean Insurance Agency, Inc. (provider of canine liability insurance coverage) for clarifying information regarding umbrella coverage. We love hearing from our readers!

ADDED May 14, 2015: 2014 dog bite statistics and related claims information from the Insurance Information Institute (@iiiorg) and 2014 claims report by state from State Farm (@StateFarm).

In early April, OII served as a resource for a Toledo Blade story on insurance coverage for dogs, specific to breeds that may be perceived as high-risk, ‘vicious’ or potentially uninsurable.
Although OII was not apprised in advance, the story focused on first-time homebuyers with three large dogs (including a pit bull) and their initial roadblocks in finding homeowners insurance coverage that included their dogs. After contacting several companies, the couple successfully found coverage in the standard homeowners insurance market.Dog
This got us thinking. Insurance consumers and insurance companies may not always be on the same page when it comes to coverage needs and expectations. So why not turn this into an opportunity to educate others?
Insurance coverage for your pooch is possible, even when the risk is beyond that of a standard homeowners policy. Understanding potential risks related to dog ownership and coverage options will help provide a safe, secure home for all.
And that’s what this post is all about.

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Pet ownership is an emotional issue. Families become attached to their pets for good reason. Here’s how to arm yourself with the facts needed to protect your furriest family member.

Know what you’re up against: State and local laws

First and foremost, know that Ohio insurers do not commonly discriminate based on dog breed.

Ohio became a breed-neutral state in May 2012 after pit bulls were no longer deemed a vicious breed under HB 14. While Ohio state law is no longer breed-specific, municipalities across the state can impose such laws. As a home-rule state, local government may have tighter enforcement provisions including dog ownership restrictions by breed and number per household. OII encourages current and future dog owners to check their local municipal codes to assure ownership compliance. If you live outside of Ohio, the National League of Cities (@leagueofcitieslocal government report provides a list of states that impose various levels of home-rule authority.

Insurance companies address pet liability in a number of ways. Approaches are based on their company data including the frequency and severity of dog-bite related claims and statistics from other notable sources. This allows Ohio’s insurance market to develop a variety of coverage options, including on a case-by-case basis, instead of a “one size fits all” approach mandated by law that often doesn’t apply to everyone.

Know the stats: Dog bite claims and risk 

Allowing the marketplace to develop products that address liability associated with pet ownership makes sense. And dog bite claims statistics build a strong case for product need:

Let’s talk risk. Many homeowners do not choose pet ownership. And most dog owners are responsible for their pets. Is it fair to surcharge homeowners or renters that don’t own a dog or whose pets don’t pose a strong liability risk? We think not.

Know your options: Insurance coverage 

Here are some of the approaches insurers may take when it comes to dog ownership and coverage:

  • In the application process for homeowners or renters insurance, some companies may inquire about dog ownership and behavior history to help determine risk potential. This is then factored into coverage costs. If you don’t have a dog this will not be not be a coverage consideration. Even if you do, it may or may not be a factor depending on your company.
    This is similar to application questions that insurers may ask related other potential property risks such as whether a pool, tennis court, hot tub or trampoline are located on the premises or if you have a home-based business.
  • Other insurers may have a “first-bite” rule, meaning the company provides liability coverage the first time a dog bites someone. After the first dog claim, an insurer may exclude coverage for any additional claims, due to increased risk of reoccurrence.
  • In other scenarios, an insurer may offer homeowners coverage with a canine liability exclusion for reasons such as a dog’s past history or breed. It allows an insurer to write a homeowners or renters policy for other exposures and exclude any dog bite exposure. In those situations, coverage is available in the open market or through umbrella coverage. (More below on both options.)

Know the specifics: Coverage options

In many cases, you’ll find coverage under a standard homeowners or renters insurance policy. If your policy does not provide the coverage you want or are required to have for your dog, there are options. We recommend first talking to your insurance agent or company to obtain a better understanding of your coverage wants and needs. Liability coverage for dog-related claims can be secured the following ways:

Options include:

1) Standard homeowners HO-3 insurance policy: This policy provides coverage for all risks that are not listed on the policy as exclusions. Check with your company or agent to see if/how dog liability coverage applies.

2) Umbrella policy: (REVISED) If your homeowners or renters policy limits or excludes coverage, a separate umbrella policy may provide the liability protection you need, depending on the type of policy (broad form versus an underlying coverage form). An umbrella policy basically increases your basic liability limits provided under auto, home and/or renters insurance policies. Umbrella policies usually cover the medical costs of a person that is bitten by your dog and legal representation should you be sued for such an injury.

Contact your insurance company or agent to ensure the coverage you are seeking through an umbrella policy is provided.

See our dog liability resource guide for a list of selected insurance company umbrella policies that include coverage for dog-related claims.

3) Canine liability policy: For higher-risk situations, such as coverage for a dog that has previously bitten, you may need to seek separate liability coverage. A stand-alone canine liability policy covers expenses if your dog causes an injury or damages someone else’s property. See our dog liability resource guide that includes some of the providers that offer this special coverage.

Ohio currently has the ninth lowest average homeowners premium in the country.

Allowing insurers make determinations based on risk – no matter if it’s for a pet, an exotic sports car, unusual art collection, state of the art media room, or other personal hobby or interest – and enabling them to approach risk in variety of ways helps keep Ohio’s insurance premiums affordable without sacrificing availability.

Additional resources

Original post: April 22, 2015
Updated post: April 24, 2015

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