How Does Homeowners Insurance Handle Pets?

| December 18, 2012

pet insuranceThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs each year, more than half of them children. In 2011 alone, insurance providers paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in dog bite claims. The numbers keep going up each year, and as a result, insurance companies are increasingly wary about covering dogs, especially when it comes to certain breeds.

Following is an overview of how homeowners insurance handles pets. For specific questions about your policy, call your agent or visit the Dex Knows directory to find agents and insurance companies in your area.

Animal liability

Generally speaking, if your domestic pet bites someone who isn’t a family member, whether in or outside of your home, the animal liability clause in your homeowners insurance policy will cover resulting claims. The coverage will match your policy amount ($100,000, $300,000, etc.); if the claim is higher than that, you’ll pay the difference out of pocket.

‘Dangerous’ or ‘risky’ dog breeds

Your insurance company can refuse to cover a dog under any circumstances, however, depending on its breed. Here are a few breeds that insurance providers may consider too risky for coverage:

  1. Wolf hybrids
  2. Alaskan malamutes
  3. Siberian huskies
  4. Great Danes
  5. Akitas
  6. Chows
  7. German shepherds
  8. Rottweilers
  9. Doberman pinschers
  10. Pit bulls

If an insurance provider is willing to cover dogs on a case-by-case basis rather than excluding an entire breed, you may be required to pay higher premiums, purchase separate liability insurance or take additional safety measures such as obedience training and muzzling. Check your policy or call your agent for specifics.

‘One-bite rule’

Many insurance companies have a “one-bite rule,” which means just what it sounds like: one strike and your dog is out. If your dog bites a second time, you’re solely responsible for the claim, which can include attorney fees and medical bills, and run up into six figures or more depending on the severity of the bite victim’s injuries.

Landlord liability

Renters insurance policies treat animal liability in much the same way as homeowners insurance. State and local laws vary, but if you’re a renter, your landlord may also be on the hook if your dog bites or injures someone. Landlords who allow dogs will typically maintain additional liability coverage for themselves, though they may pass some of the cost along to you. Review your lease and renters insurance carefully for related provisions.

Do your homework

Shop around for pet-friendly insurers (they do exist) and do your homework on their policies. You can try contacting the American Kennel Club or Humane Society for a list of dog-friendly insurance providers as well.

Finally, you should always report any changes to your homeowners insurance carrier, whether your dog bites someone or you bring a new dog into the home. A new dog often means a new policy, especially if the breed is considered high risk. For specific advice, search the Dex listings for an insurance company or professional agent near you.

Check out our Pets Pinterest board!

Tags: , , ,

Category: Insurance

About the Author ()

Katy is a Chicago-based journalist with an eclectic background in print publishing, web design and paralegal work. She's been writing and editing web content full time since 2010.