The Insurance Information Institute reports that about a third of all homeowner claims involve dog bites. Insurance companies are now pursuing a strategy to avoid paying these claims. The companies either refrain from selling insurance to households with dogs, refrain from selling insurance to people who have certain breeds of dogs, or exclude dog bites from coverage.
Some companies sell insurance to owners of disfavored dogs, but at a higher price. Still others will cover a pet if the owner takes the dog to classes aimed at modifying its behavior or if the dog is restrained with a muzzle, chain, or cage. (To learn more about the dog bite epidemic through the eyes of the insurance industry, read the very informative article entitled "Dog Bite Liability" by the Insurance Information Institute.)
This alarming trend hurts dog owners, dog bite victims, health insurance companies and society at large:
- Dog owners who do not have insurance for dog bites can lose their homes, their assets and their income as a result of a single dog bite incident, unless they are insured for it. Although many, many dog bites do not result in serious injury, the sad fact is that a significant number cause devastating scars and disfigurement.
- Dog bite victims certainly deserve to receive payment for their serious losses, but if dog owners are not insured and do not have assets or income, then there is no way that the victim can recover.
- Society always pays the price of uncompensated, uninsured losses because the community ends up paying the medical bills, the state pays disability and unemployment benefits, and welfare pays the rest. This might result in the government taking action that might not be in the best interest of dog owners, namely banning certain breeds of dogs, or making it illegal to not have dog bite insurance.
One of the issues most threatening to dog owners is the denial of insurance coverage. If the insurance industry excludes dogs from homeowner policies and won't sell dog owners a canine liability policy, then the homes of dog owners are at risk, along with their financial futures.
In this country the insurance industry plays the important role of spreading the risks. The industry backs up many of the civil rights of little people, who are subject to liability for a number of things, such as driving cars and yes, owning dogs. Were it not for insurance, we could not do all of those things and, at the same time, enjoy the benefit of our laws that permit victims to be compensated.
So the insurance industry, by denying insurance to dog owners, is placing them at risk and infringing on their right to own dogs. At the same time, the denial puts the burden of many dog bites on the victims who are already suffering. It makes no sense to deny coverage, and dog owners must speak out against it.
It should be illegal for insurance companies to refuse to insure certain breeds. Dog owners need the protect that insurance provides, and dog bite victims need compensation for all the things that are inflicted on them and taken away from them. The insurance industry compensates only 16,000 dog bite victims every year despite the fact that at least 800,000 victims are hurt badly enough that they need to see a doctor or go to the hospital. In many cases, the victims are dog lovers and friends, neighbors or family members of the owner of the attacking dog. These victims often take no action because they are unnecessarily afraid of "hurting" the dog or the dog owner. Those fears are unfounded when the case is handled by an attorney with experience in dog bite cases, and the dog owner has insurance. More to the point, the victims who seek compensation are often unsuccessful because the dog owners don't have the insurance. Sometimes the dog owners have homeowners insurance or renters insurance but the coverage for dog bites is either limited in dollar amount or excluded entirely. This hurts victims the most, which is why insurance companies should be required to cover these attacks and provide the coverage at a reasonable cost that is affordable to most people.
The insurance industry is also engaging in the controversial and probably ineffective practice of "breed bans." Read about Breed specific laws.