What is Animal Liability?
For a lot of us, pets are a huge part of our lives. The pets that we bring into our families often feel more like a son or daughter than a pet. That being said, like children, their mistakes fall back on the owner. This is why it is important to think about animal liability.
On any homeowners insurance policy, there is coverage for Liability up to a certain limit. If an insured has a limit of $500K, they can use that $500K to pay for things like lawyers, court fees, settlements, etc. if someone is hurt in a way that they deem to be the fault of the homeowner. A common occurrence that this applies is when people are injured by someone else’s pet. Let’s take a look at an example:
- Mr. Brown is visiting the home of his good friend Mr. Black.
- Mr. Brown brings his 7-year-old daughter, Mya along.
- Mr. Black allows Mya to play with his Golden Retriever, Scooter, while he and Mr. Black are catching up.
- Scooter gets excited and jumps up on Mya, scratching her face.
- Mya’s scratch gets infected - she has to be hospitalized.
- Mr. Brown sues Mr. Black for $50,000 for medical bills along with pain and suffering for Mya.
- Mr. Black’s home insurance company pays out the $50,000 for him.
Ineligible Dog Breeds
Naturally, different animals offer a different amount of risk when it comes to their chance of injuring someone. Because of this, insurance companies can be selective about the types of animals they are willing to insure. The most common factor that we see in determining this is dog breeds. Different dog breeds are wildly different and each breed has its own list of physical characteristics such as size and weight, along with mental characteristics such as prey drive and aggression. Most insurance companies will use these general factors to compile a list of dog breeds that they deem unacceptable for their programs. Even if your dog has no history of being aggressive, insurance companies bode on the side of caution when it comes to developing their list of ineligible dog breed list. Dogs that are typically on this list include breeds like Pitbulls, Rottweilers, and Dobermans. If a homeowners insurance company has a breed on its ineligible breed list, homeowners who have these types of dogs will need to find coverage elsewhere.
A couple of other things to keep in mind are mixed breed dogs, and dogs that have a bite history. If the insurance company is not ok with insuring a home with a Rottweiler, then they are going to feel the same way about a home that has a half-Rottweiler, or a mixed-breed dog that looks a lot like a Rottweiler. Dogs that have any sort of bite or attack history will likely not be accepted by any insurance company.
What if the insurance company does not know about my dog?
Any good insurance agent should always ask questions about pets and breeds. It is important to be upfront and honest with the agent about these things because withholding the truth, in this case, could really come back to bite you. Most insurance companies will typically do a brief inspection of the home anytime a new policy is written. If the inspector finds a breed that is on the ineligible breed list, the home insurance company can send a notice of cancellation for the policy, leaving the owner in the same place they started in; searching for home insurance. While this is inconvenient, this is the best-case scenario. The worst-case scenario is that the insurance company does not find out about the ineligible dog until it is time to file a claim for something. If this happens, the insurance company will have a leg to stand on if they decide not to pay out for the claim since the policy was originally written for a family they would not normally accept. If you and your family are considering adopting a dog, we recommend reaching out to your agent to confirm what dog breed restrictions are in place with your current carrier and what coverage options are available so you avoid those worst-case scenarios altogether.
What is an Animal Liability Exclusion?
While some insurance companies will deem a family completely ineligible for having certain breeds, other companies may offer an Animal Liability Exclusion. What this means is that all of the coverages on the policy apply, but if the animal injures someone, they will not cover the liability for it. This is a great option for some individuals who have historically aggressive dog breeds but have no concern about the dog injuring someone because they have taken the proper precautions, socialized the animal, and limited access to other people. This can also be a huge risk for people who believe their dog will not hurt anyone because they are friendly. Having a homeowners policy with an Animal Liability Exclusion is something that may seem appealing, but always remember that any animal, regardless of socialization or temperament, can cause bodily harm to someone. In the instance that this happens, you would be left to pay for the injuries of the injured person, the legal fees, the settlement, etc.
Overall, the most important thing to do is to be sure that you have a good understanding of how your home insurance works when it comes to your pets. There are tons of people whose home insurance does not cover their pet liability in the way that they think it does, and even more, people who have never even thought about it. When it comes to this, knowing your options is half the battle.
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