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'Blacklisted' breeds could take bite out of home insurance

By Daniel Workman

Every 40 seconds, a dog bite victim in the United States seeks medical attention, according to plastic surgeon Dr. Michael Bermant. Children represent 60 percent of those injured, and 77 percent of dog attacks target the victim's face.

Canine attacks killed 30 Americans in 2009, according to

For homeowners who are also dog owners, it's important to determine whether a home insurance policy covers -- or excludes -- injuries caused by their pets. In fact, some insurance companies may exclude dogs based on breed.



Is my dog eligible for coverage?

Depending on state laws and insurance company policies, some insurers exclude certain breeds. Others decline individual dogs with previous histories of aggressive behavior -- especially if a child was the victim.

Most insurance companies will not offer a home, condo, renter, liability or umbrella policy if you own a dog found on their "dangerous" breed list. The "usual suspects" on this list (which vary by insurance company) are:

  • Akitas
  • Alaskan malamutes
  • Bull Terriers
  • Presa Canarios
  • Chows
  • Dobermans
  • Pinschers
  • German shepherds
  • Great Danes
  • Pit bull
  • Stafforshire Terriers
  • Rottweilers
  • Siberian huskies
  • Wolf/Wolf Hybrids
  • Any mix of these breeds

Many owners are faced with the following choices: move, find a new home for their beloved family member or try to find an insurance policy that covers their dog.

What if my dog is declined?

Pet owners who do not qualify for dog bite coverage under traditional insurance policies can apply for dog owner liability insurance, available from special-risk companies offered by certain agencies such as Southern Insurance Associates in La Fayette, GA.

Consumers should ask the special-risk underwriter whether losses that happen away from the dog owner's property are covered.

How much dog bite insurance do I need?

Under home insurance policies, the maximum for dog bite charges generally ranges from $100,000 to $300,000. Separate dog owner liability policies usually provide up to $100,000 in canine liability protection.

From 2003 to 2009, the average cost of dog bite claims rose by 30 percent to $24,840, according to the Insurance Information Institute. However, overall expenses can be much higher. Lawsuits can boost claim settlements by hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The risk of financial hardship is more severe in the 30 strict-liability states plus District of Colombia, where laws make dog owners strictly responsible for dog attacks, according to Other states waive liability for a 'first bite' attack or provide a mix of strict liability and the more lenient first-bite laws.

Dog bite insurance shoppers should ask a legal professional which type of state liability laws would apply to their pets.

Do I need dog bite umbrella insurance?

Umbrella insurance can cover a wide range of claims not payable under a number of underlying auto and home insurance policies.

An umbrella liability policy extends the maximum payable for dog bite claims up to $1 million, and covers expenses otherwise ineligible under the basic auto and homeowner policies. An umbrella policy also affords protection against lawsuits from dog bite victims.

While umbrella premiums can be surprisingly affordable, dog bite insurance shoppers should first ask:

  • Are all canine-inflicted injuries covered?
  • What are the umbrella policy's deductibles?

Contact Southern Insurance Associates at 706-996-8788 or Info [at] SouthernInsuranceAssociates [dot] com to review your coverage options.