When an insurance agent asks whether you own a dog, he or she isn’t just making conversation. The answer to that question plays a role in your home insurance. That’s because dog bites account for nearly 16,500 claims against home insurance policies in 2012, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III).
The average cost per claim for those bites was $29,752. That’s about 1.2% more than the previous year. The III says the increase in claim payouts, despite a small drop in the total number of claims, is evidence of higher medical costs, as well as an increase in settlements and awards to bite victims who file lawsuits.
That’s why an agent asks that question about dog ownership.
If you say no
The agent will move on to other questions about swimming pools, trampolines, the type of roof you have, and whether you conduct business in your home. All have a bearing on how much you’ll pay for your monthly premiums. Above all, these questions are mean to determine the risk posed by your home and household.
How far you live from a fire station – even a fire hydrant – affects you risk level. Most carriers believe your credit score does as well.
If you say yes
If you tell an agent you have a dog, there will be follow-up questions. One will be about whether it has ever bitten someone.
If you answer yes to that one, you’ll be asked how the incident happened and whether the animal was provoked, how serious the injury was, and whether an insurance claimed was filed, among others.
Even if you answer that the dog has never bitten anyone, there still will be at least one more question – what type of dog is it? That’s because home insurers consider the following breeds to be high risks:
- Pit bulls
- Staffordshire terriers
- Doberman pinschers
- German shepherds
- Great danes
- Siberian huskies
- Wolf hybrids
What happens if you own a member of one of those breeds? Some carriers may refuse to cover you if you do, especially if the dog has a bite history. Others will cover you but specifically exclude any incident involving the dog. Others will cover you but at a higher cost than you’d pay if you didn’t own the animal.
The industry says the numbers back up its wariness. Loretta Wolters, a vice president and spokeswoman for the III, discussed the industry’s take earlier this year with a Chicago television station. “This is all concrete information we are getting, numbers that show the losses, and you can’t dispute the numbers, it is what it is.”
But animal advocates insist breed danger isn’t so clear cut; they say individual temperament plays a much a bigger role than breed. They also point out that few dogs are pure breeds and complain that dogs wind up being judged on “appearance” rather than breed. For example, a pit bull mix with a collie will be judged on which of those breeds it looks like.
If you lie
Given the information above, some dog owners may consider just lying to their agents about their canine friends. Granted, you’ll pay less in premiums that way. But this is a tremendous risk. Should your dog bite anyone, you’ll have no liability coverage if you’ve lied about your dog.
Remember that average dog-bite claim payout of nearly $30,000? You’ll be responsible for the entire amount in that case.
What to do
The best practice is to be honest about your dog, and shop coverage with several providers. Providers don’t all judge risk by the same criteria. Ask a fellow dog owner which carrier he or she uses for home insurance. Many will be swayed if the dog has successfully completed obedience training.
Mostly, remember this. Your provider doesn’t hate dogs. But it is obliged to consider risks when insuring homeowners. That’s why it asks the questions.