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Insurance Bites but so Did the Dog

Pets and the law is a pretty controversial area. When in doubt, check with your lawyer about what is covered and what is not.

“Let me give you a quick example of something that could happen to anyone with a dog. Say you are out walking your Pit Bull and a jogger comes by, but trips over the dog’s leash and falls. Ghost, your dog, barks a couple of times because when the jogger fell, he yanked Ghost’s leash hard, causing him to choke,” explained Charlie Donahue, a New Hampshire personal injury lawyer located in Keene. Donahue handles injury cases in New Hampshire and across the United States.

“Ghost, the very soul of discretion and joviality, took the incident in good humor and wagged his tail happily. The jogger on the other hand later claimed he’d fallen because Ghost lunged at him. Are you covered by the liability portion of your renter’s, condo or homeowner’s insurance? Maybe,” said Donahue.

The first question that a lot of people ask is why aren’t they covered? “Usually the answer has to do with the insurance company holding the policy for your residence. Many companies are not willing to provide liability coverage for a dog if they feel it has a history of past transgressions or they don’t like the breed. In this instance, the Pit Bull has a bad rep and the insurance company wouldn’t want to take that risk,” remarked Donahue.

Research shows that many carriers won’t write a residential insurance policy if the person applying has a dog (any breed) with a history of biting. Others carriers will issue a policy, but with an exclusion; the exclusion being any injuries caused by dangerous breeds such as wolf hybrids, Pit Bulls, Dobermans, Akitas, Boxers and other dogs with an attitude. In other words, it’s darn hard to find an insurance company that will include dog bite liability coverage in a residential insurance policy.

“This isn’t to say that you can’t find it, it’s just hard to find. It’s definitely something you need to know about if you happen to own one of the breeds insurance companies aren’t very fond of for various reasons. If all else fails, you might find an independent that could help you out,” Donahue suggested.

There are a number of people who conveniently forget to answer questions about their dog’s history or breed when they apply for insurance or are dealing with a renewal form. For some reason they figure avoiding the issue and the truth won’t make any difference later. Unfortunately, things just don’t work that way and if the carrier gets wind of the fact that an insured withheld information that would have disqualified them in the beginning, they will cancel the policy.

“That isn’t the only thing that could happen if you choose not to tell the company you have a dog. If they find out later when they are defending a dog related claim, they would have clear grounds to refuse to hire an attorney to defend a court action or pay a claim or adverse judgment,” outlined Donahue.

“Think you could handle a lawsuit on your own? You might want to give that some serious thought first, because it’s a proven fact that dog bites comprised about one-third of all homeowner claims, costing insurers a cool $356 million in 2007 alone. Add to that the fact that your average dog bite claim may run to about $25,000, a figure that creeps up every year. And, over 4.7 million people get bitten every year with close to 1 million needing medical attention,” Donahue added.

In a nutshell, there are other options for dog owners who have breeds that come with a questionable history, but the policy pricing tends to be fairly high. Foregoing insurance if the dog is known to have its moments isn’t a wise move. The choice is ultimately up to the owner, but having insurance is likely to be far less costly than a personal injury lawsuit settlement.

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