Insurance Companies: Unfairly Target Specific Dog Breeds

The dog owners who choose large, powerful breeds such as rottweilers, German shepherds, Doberman pinschers, Akitas, pit bulls, or chows appear to be under close scrutiny by the insurance industry. At the very least, this appears to be the case for those dog owners who prefer these breeds.

Insurers are currently rethinking the policies they offer to homeowners who share their homes with certain dog breeds. For the business world, these figures are about as comforting as the sound of a dog howling at midnight: According to the insurance industry, the fact that dog bites account for one-third of all liability claims brought against homeowners has forced them to shell out a total of $310 million each year in settlements.

These figures, when added up, amount to a blanket prohibition on certain breeds of dogs by many insurance companies. An action of this kind may have been regarded as extreme in the past; however, the industry claims that it is now simply an inevitable result of the society in which we live.

However, the repercussions of breed bans extend much further than denied coverage and the dollar amounts and cent amounts of the insurance industry. The bans are having the additional effect of discouraging people in the United States from owning dogs, which in turn forces animal shelters to deal with people who would rather keep their insurance policy than their pet.

The number of rottweilers that have been surrendered to the Humane Society in Atchison, Kansas, as a result of insurance coverage has increased by forty percent over the course of the previous year.

Penny Virts-Bell, the executive director of the shelter, explains that “for a lot of people—myself included, as I have a Rottie—these aren’t just dogs.”They play a significant role in the functioning of the family. It’s the same as if you were to give up your child.

According to Virts-Bell, none of the dogs that were given up were hostile or vicious, and the owners only gave up their pets as a last resort.

She reports that “they tried their best to find homes for the animals.” We attempted to take legal action on their behalf against the insurance company, but we were met with resistance at every turn.

Breed restrictions imposed by the insurance industry are only contributing to the existing problem of 3 million to 4 million animals being put to death annually in shelters. However, insurance officials point the finger at breed bans for the most recent developments, claiming that more dog bite cases are being brought to court and that juries are awarding victims larger sums of money.

According to Alejandra Soto of the Insurance Information Institute, “It’s pretty obvious that people have had dogs and insurance for many, many years” (III). “We don’t know why, but there have been more cases of dogs biting people in the past five to ten years, and these cases have gone to trial. This is something that has puzzled us. Why do they find themselves in court a greater number of times than they used to? We don’t have any idea.”

It is estimated that there were 4.7 million dog bites reported to authorities in 1999, which is an increase from the 4.5 million that were reported in 1996. The majority of those bitten were children. In addition, the $250 million that was paid out for dog-bite liability claims five years ago represents an increase from the $310 million that was paid out in 2001.

According to Soto, the risk factor for insurance companies shifts every time a dog bite case goes to trial. Because of this, the industry is required to make judgments based on the shifting risk factors. Some people have suddenly come to the conclusion that individuals with particular breeds pose an unacceptable level of danger. Kenneth Phillips, a lawyer in California who has handled dog-bite cases for more than a decade and who runs the website (see link below), asserts that the insurance industry is incorrect about the increase in the number of cases that have been tried over the years. Phillips is the proprietor of the website

Phillips states, “I don’t think there’s been any change at all,” regarding the situation.

Regarding the breed bans, Phillips shares the viewpoint of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) that they are misguided and cause additional difficulties for both dog owners and the community at large.

He claims that there is no way to accurately identify all of the breeds that have the potential to be dangerous. “The ban on breeds is a very simplistic and knee-jerk reaction to a problem that is much more complex.” A ban on certain breeds of dogs is only going to solve 10% of the problem. A breed ban does not address the other 90 percent of the problem, which includes training, socialization, the health of the dog, and the behavior of the victim.

Opponents of breed bans argue that an alternative would be to focus on the individual dog rather than the breed.
According to Stephanie Shain, who serves as the Director of Companion Animal Outreach for The Humane Society of the United States, “the insurance companies are missing the boat.” “Any dog can bite. The insurance industry needs to examine this problem on a case-by-case basis and reach conclusions about specific canines, rather than generalizations about entire dog breeds. If the insurance industry is ready to properly evaluate dogs, which, with 68 million dogs kept in the United States, will also be a good thing for their business, then we are ready and waiting to assist.

In response, Soto argues that the case-by-case model may not be practically applicable for insurance companies.

The reality is that dogs can bite for a variety of reasons. They may bite out of fear, in order to defend their territory, or in order to assert their superiority over a person. There is also the possibility that some owners will inadvertently teach their canines that biting is an appropriate form of play, which can lead to biting. Additionally, every year a number of newborn infants lose their lives as a result of dog bites. These dogs may view the infants as “prey,” or they may inadvertently cause harm to the infants when they interact with them unsupervised. Because there are many different reasons why dogs bite, it is essential to provide responsible dog care, which includes correct socialization, supervision, humane training, sterilization, and safe confinement. This will help reduce the likelihood of dogs biting.

People who are on the receiving end of insurance company breed bans do not have many options for recourse, and this is true regardless of the reason why a dog bit them.

According to Soto, it may be possible to provide documentation to an insurance company that proves that the dog is not a biter. However, even if you do so, an insurer that bans certain breeds regardless of the circumstances may not be swayed by the evidence. People who are dealing with those companies should, according to Soto, only do one thing, which is shop around, and they should let their insurance company know that they are doing so and the reason why.

People also have the option of filling out the insurance incident form that is provided by The HSUS. This form allows people to document their problem in a straightforward and understandable format while also making The HSUS aware of their problem.

Soto advises, “Above all,” that one should “not panic. If you are considering getting a dog, the most responsible thing for you to do is to educate yourself about the problem first. Also, if you own a dog, make sure you act like a responsible owner. Take all of the preventative measures that are available to you.

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