Rescue dogs in Missouri are growing by leaps and bounds. In Missouri, and especially in St. Louis, it seems there are news articles and reports every week detailing abused and abandoned dogs. Many families are willing to take these dogs in and work to improve their lives. However, there is one major obstacle preventing many from adopting rescue dogs: the insurance industry. Very few people know that almost every homeowner’s insurance policy refuses to insure any damage caused by what are commonly rescue dogs. The policies will not afford coverage to most rescue dogs. For most families, they cannot afford to not have their dogs covered by insurance. Gradually, homeowners’ insurance policies have become more and more limited in what they cover. The exclusions put forth by the insurance industry make it prohibitive for rescue dogs to be welcomed into a family home without good reason. The dogs cannot be placed in the best environments because it could affect the homeowner’s insurance coverage. Some policies focus on excluding certain breeds, known commonly as Breed Specific Exclusions, while others attempt to exclude dangerous dogs. There are drawbacks to both, as Breed Specific Exclusions are completely unfounded and attempts to exclude dangerous dogs are vague and undefined. The exclusions do little but keep people from rescuing dogs.
Below is a snippet from a Safeco Homeowners’ Policy issued in Missouri concerning dangerous dogs (notice that no breed is mentioned in the policy language):
Coverage E — Personal Liability does not apply to:
liability arising out of any animal that any insured acquires, owns or keeps that:
(1) is of a breed or kind named by or controlled by any local, state, or federal ordinance or law
because of public safety concerns;
(2) has previously inflicted injury upon any person resulting in;
(a) maiming, disfigurement, mutilation, impairment, disability or death; or
(b) loss of work, schooling, or a loss of ability to carry on with a normal routine;
(3) has been trained to fight or attack;
(4) has been trained to kill;
As most individuals know, rescue dogs are generally ones that have been abused and are aggressive. They may have been trained to fight or kill. Some local municipalities have laws against certain dogs. The provision above says your homeowners’ coverage will not apply to any injury a dog causes if that dog is a breed identified by the law as dangerous, has injured someone before or was previously a fighting dog. What is a dangerous dog and who makes that determination? What is a fighting dog—one that has been in a fight one time or more than one time? What is a public safety concern? What does it mean to have a dog trained to fight? Fight who or what? All of these questions are not answered by the policy language. The policy exclusion creates more questions than solutions. This only serves to place a homeowner is foggy territory when it comes to getting insurance coverage for a dog bite incident.
Additionally, there is a law in Missouri, 273.036 RSMo, which states as follows:
273.036. 1. The owner or possessor of any dog that bites, without provocation, any person while such person is on public property, or lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner or possessor of the dog, is strictly liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s or possessor’s knowledge of such viciousness. Owners and possessors of dogs shall also be strictly liable for any damage to property or livestock proximately caused by their dogs. If it is determined that the damaged party had fault in the incident, any damages owed by the owner or possessor of the biting dog shall be reduced by the same percentage that the damaged party’s fault contributed to the incident. The provisions of this section shall not apply to dogs killing or maiming sheep or other domestic animals under section 273.020.
The statute above says the owner of a dog is liable for any injury resulting from a bite to another person. There is no wiggle room. However, the homeowners’ insurance will not cover the homeowner if the dog is dangerous, previously taught to fight, bitten before or a safety concern. Who makes the decision on whether a dog is dangerous or not or is a safety concern? What is a homeowner to do? The insurance underwriters have given dog-lovers and ultimatum: if you get a rescue dog or dog they decide is dangerous, the insurance industry will do everything they can do prevent coverage.
The net effect is that there will be and there are fewer and fewer people getting rescue dogs, especially pit bulls. If people cannot obtain reasonable insurance coverage, they cannot rescue the dogs.
Is dog breed an indicator of aggression?
Pit bulls are said to be aggressive and many municipalities forbid ownership. In fact, pit bull attacks garner far more news attention than other breeds. The truth about breeds and which are more likely to attack can be found here: http://nationalcanineresearchcouncil.com/dogbites/dog-bite-related-fatalities/ . Breed has very little to do with propensity to attack. So why do insurance companies focus on certain breeds, like they do in AAA homeowner policies? AAA Homeowners’ policies, also known as the Auto Club, specifically excludes pure or mixed breeds of Pit Bull, Rottweiler or Canary Dog. This is known as Breed Specific Exclusion.
The facts show that breed has nothing to do with propensity for aggression. In fact, almost 77% of the dogs in The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association December 2013 study that were responsible for dog-related fatalities showed no correlation between breed and propensity to attack. Breed had nothing to do with whether a dog was more likely to attack or not. It has to do with care and interaction—the most likely dogs to attack were resident-only dogs, not family pets. Resident only dogs are those who are left in crates, pens or likely to be considered a watchdog only.
The study mentioned above leaves 2 very important findings that the insurance industry wants to ignore:
- Family dogs were rarely involved in dog bite related fatalities; and
- Breed was not one of the factors identified as a predictor of dog bite related fatalities.
However, we still have insurance policies refusing to afford coverage to a dog based solely on its breed. If an insurance company wants to prohibit coverage for dangerous dogs, they need to consider factors other than breed. Several of those factors are as follows:
- Is the dog spayed/neutered
- Does the owner have a prior history of mismanagement
- Does the owner abuse or neglect dogs
- Is the dog a family pet or just a resident watchdog
See The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association December 2013.
Breed Specific Exclusions in insurance policies are ill-advised. The exclusions are not founded on any science and serve to perpetuate the fear around certain breeds. Breed Specific Exclusions are attempts by the insurance industry to limit their exposure at the expense of a homeowner. There is no science to support the contention that certain breeds are more likely to attack. Therefore, if you are a homeowner and have a dog, it would be a great idea to check your policy to see if your dog is excluded from coverage. It is better to find out now rather than in the middle of a fight with your insurance company after your dog has attacked someone. Additionally, the attempts by insurers to define dogs as “dangerous” or “trained to attack” or a “safety risk” are not defined. Such definitions make it far too easy for an insurer to simply say “That dogs is considered dangerous.” If an individual is considering rescuing a dog or getting an abandoned dog, they should not have to worry about an insurance company manufacturing some type of exclusion to discourage ownership.