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New Bedford Homeowners: Despite Drop in Dog Bite Claims, Costs for Claims Rise

dog-homeowners-insuranceSome people are “dog people” and some people are “cat people.” Unless your cat of choice is an exotic big cat from the jungle, chances are you won’t have any problems with your homeowners insurance. However, if you own one of the top 11 “riskiest” dog breeds, you might have trouble getting renters or homeowners insurance. When in doubt, speak with your New Bedford insurance agent to make sure you are covered.

The Legal Scoop
While it might seem as though some insurance companies are “picking” on certain breeds, there is no law that prohibits insurance companies from discriminating based upon a dog’s breed. Some towns and cities throughout the New England area have been challenged on laws that prohibit ownership of certain breeds due to Constitutional restrictions, but insurance companies are not subject to the same restrictions.

New information reveals that the number of homeowners insurance claims that were related to dog bites actually dropped in 2012. Unfortunately, the cost associated with settling dog bite claims rose in 2012 to over $489 million. This information comes from State Farm and the Insurance Information Institute, the largest writer of homeowners insurance policies in the United States.

The collected insurance data showed that the number of claims with regard to dog bites dropped by 1.4 percent compared to the previous year, the first drop since 2010. But the cost for these claims got higher due to an increase in the average payout for settling dog bit claims, which rose by 1.2 percent in 2012. The average dog bit claim paid out $29,752 in 2012, compared to an average claim of $29,396 in 2011.

What Does This Information Mean?
The good news is that dog bite associated homeowners insurance claims is down. The bad news is that the rise in the costs associated for those claims has offset the decrease in filed claims, suggesting that the judgements given by courts, juries and settlements are still on the rise.

To reduce the risk associated with homeowners insurance policies for customers who own dogs is to prevent dogs from having the opportunity to bite visitors to your home in the first place. One way to do this is to avoid owning dogs that have made the top 11 “riskiest” dog breeds, as named by insurance companies across the country. Many of the dogs on this list are either not covered or preclude eligibility for the average homeowners insurance policy.

Why Are Some Breeds Harder to Insure than Others?
Insurance companies are working to reduce liability based upon “high risk” breeds, obviously to avoid the high awards that are typically given to dog bite claims. In the United States alone, an approximate 4.7 million dog bite related injuries occur each year, with over 800,000 requiring medical treatment of some sort. Each year, insurance companies pay approximately $250 million in dog bit claims, with each average claim fetching approximately $12,000.

Outside of the “risky” breeds that are considered undesirable by many homeowners insurance companies, dogs that have a history of biting or aggression might also not be covered. If you are considering adopting a rescue dog of a “risky” breed or one that has a history of problems, you will want to first discuss this with your New Bedford insurance agent as well, to prevent potential issues with your coverage.

The Top 11 Riskiest Dog Breeds for Homeowners Insurance Coverage
Wonder whether your dog has made the list? The list was compiled based upon statistics given by homeowners insurance providers across the country and the dogs that they commonly deemed to be most “risky” compared to other breeds.

#1 – Staffordshire Terriers and American Bull Terriers (Pit Bulls)
#2 – Doberman Pinschers
#3 – Rottweilers
#4 – German Shepherds
#5 – Chows
#6 – Great Danes
#7 – Presa Canarios
#8 – Akitas
#9 – Alaskan Malamutes
#10 – Siberian Huskies
#11 – Wolf “hybrids”

What Can You Do?
Every May, National Dog Bite Prevention Week is held in the United States. This annual event is held to make homeowners aware of certain risks associated with dog ownership. It also provides tips that can help homeowners become responsible pet owners and increases awareness to the public about the associated risks of dog ownership.

Some of the things you can do to decrease your homeowners insurance risk with regard to dog ownership include:

  • Training and Care – Working with a professional animal behavior specialist, trainer or veterinarian to determine which dog breeds would be best for your home and situation, based on your needs, interests, available time for training and exercise, as well as suitable breeds for your town, city and homeowners insurance policy.
  • The More You Know – Research the dog you are considering adopting to ensure that it doesn’t have a history of aggression or biting, especially if it is a rescue. Speak wtih your local New Bedford insurance agent to ensure that the dog’s breed is covered under your insurance policy.
  • Safeguard Your Dog – Know your dog and learn its behavioral cues. If the dog is afraid of small children or skittish around new people, protect your dog from a possible attack by removing it from the situation all together. Bring it indoors, walk across the street to avoid potential risk or put your dog away in a crate when new people visit.
  • Prevent Getting Bit – Learn good dog ettiquette and never approach a new or unknown dog without adhereing to proper social rules. Teach your children to respect a dog’s space and show them how to properly approach a new dog.


My Dog is on the List: What Should I Do Now?

If you already own a dog and its breed is on the list of the 11 most “risky” breeds, the best advice is to keep it safe and away from visitors or opportunities to bite.  If you tell your insurance agent or insurance company representative that you own the dog, the agent is obligated contractually, to inform the insurance company, who in turn may nonrenew your policy.  If your dog bites someone, you will have basically two choices: Give up the dog or go without insurance.  If your policy is cancelled because  your dog is on the list but has no biting incidents, the Massachusetts Fair Plan may offer a replacement policy.

If you don’t own a dog yet, but have been considering adopting or buying one of the breeds on the list, speak with your New Bedford insurance agent first, to find out whether the dog could present a problem with your insurance.

When applying for a new homeowners or similar insurance policy or completing a renewal application and you do not disclose that you own one of the “risky” breeds ,  all insurance claims on your policy might be denied, costing you thousands of dollars out of pocket.  You might ask: ‘Why deny all claims?’ This is because if the truth had been stated on the application, the offer to provide insurance would be withdrawn.  The best thing to do to avoid any potential problems with your homeowners insurance company is to be honest and upfront at the start of a policy. If you still want to adopt a dog that is on the “risky” list, at least you will know ahead of time what to expect and will be able to adapt and make changes with your insurance coverage, if necessary.

When it comes to renters or homeowners insurance, your policy is only as good as the information that you provide to your New Bedford insurance agent. If you have any questions about your homeowners policy and whether or not it covers your dog or anything else that you own, contact your New Bedford insurance agent right away. Your agent will be able to provide you with advice that can help you to make sure that you are properly covered.