Dog Bite | Animal Behavior Expert Witness For Attorneys

Richard H. Polsky, Ph.D. CDBC
Los Angeles, California

“Bringing the science of animal behavior to attorneys”

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Homeowner insurance companies blacklist certain breeds of dog

Suffering substantial losses from dog bite injury claims in the last two decades, insurance underwriting policies have changed with respect to coverage for injury inflicted by a homeowner’s dog. Typically homeowners were covered regardless of breed or if the dog was involved in a single biting incident. Now, coverage may not be given if a certain breed lives on the premises, or it may be excluded if the dog in question has any history of biting. In fact, some insurance companies have even started offering discounts to homeowners for not keeping a dog on their premises at all.

Below is a summary of major insurance companies underwriting policies. This information is current as of August, 2011.

  • State Farm. Will not exclude a dog based on its breed, but rather more concerned about whether there has been a history of biting for any residence dog.
  • Allstate. Similar to State Farm in that it may exclude a dog if there are reports of past biting instances.
  • Nationwide. Will refuse new coverage if the dog is a Rottweilers, Doberman, pit bull, presa canario, chow, or wolf hybrid.
  • Auto Club. Blacklisted breeds include: Presa canaro, “pit-bull type” dogs, and Rottweilers. Note that the auto club blacklists “pit bull type” dogs, but since this is such a vague term, a homeowner may challenge denial of coverage based on an adjusters impression that the dog is supposedly a “pit bull type dog”.
  • Farmers. This company appears to have a no-tolerance policy for dogs that bite. Given a biting history in an insured’s dog, they would either exclude the pet from the policy – or not write the policy at all. The company also won’t take new business from people who have had dog-bite claims in the last three years, even if the family no longer owns the dog.

In addition, some companies may elect to do the following: (a) Charge higher premiums for owning a dog; (b) Suggest that the homeowner get rid of the dog; (c) Exclude the dog from coverage once a dog has bitten; (d) Provide coverage only if the homeowner takes the dog to classes; (e) Provide coverage only if the dog wears a muzzle, or is maintained in a fashion that would considerably reduce the chances of a biting incident.

From this writer’s perspective, it seems grossly unfair to blacklist a dog just because it belongs to a certain breed. Underwriters seem to be basing a lot of their decision-making on the widely read publication from the Centers of Disease Control about dog bite fatalities between 1979 and 1998. The findings in this study, however, refer to dog bite fatalities and not the incidences of dog bite injury, and therefore it seems illogical to use these findings to single out a particular breed for exclusion. For example, Chow chow have been found to inflict more dog bites to non-household members than most other breeds, but Chow chows are not blacklisted. Another concern, as in the example of the Auto Club mentioned above, one cannot always be certain that a dog belongs to a certain breed. Other more rational approaches could easily be taken. For example, before denying coverage an insurance company could hire an animal behaviorist to do an evaluation of the dog if underwriters suspect the dog may be problematic. Apparently, frequently underwriters do not appear take into account the fact that individuals within any breed differ tremendously in temperament and the propensity to bite people, and that dogs bite for different reasons. For example, would be fair to blacklist a family pit bull terrier or Rottweiler, for example, if a previous biting incident happened because the dog was provoked?


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