Discussions about dogs can be very emotional given how they are often treated as a member of the family. Most people, especially in NH, love their dogs and could never imagine them causing any harm. Unfortunately however, at HPM Insurance in Bedford and Milford occasionally we have to tell a prospect or existing client that we are either not able to offer them a policy, or worse, cancel their existing homeowners insurance because of the type of dog they own.
Does my NH homeowners insurance cover me if my dog bites someone?
Typically yes as this is covered under the liability portion of your homeowners, renters or condo policy. Where a problem can arise is if you were not entirely truthful when completing your application for homeowners insurance. You are typically asked about any pets you own. If you decide it is best to not mention the fact that you have a dog, this would be considered a misrepresentation and grounds for denying not just a dog bite claim, but any claim. The rational from the insurance company is that the company would not have issued the policy in the first place, and hence not covered the loss you experienced, had they known the truth about your dog. It is best to always be truthful on your application and review all questions. Different insurance companies have different underwriting guidelines, which means that some companies have tighter restrictions on dogs than others. Let your insurance agent find the company that can meet your needs.
Why would my insurance company cancel my home or rental policy if I own a certain breed of dog?
Under dog-bite statutes in NH, owners are liable for all property damage and injuries caused by their dog. This includes medical injury, lost wages, pain and suffering and property damage. Dog bites are covered under the liability portion of your NH homeowners, renters or condo policy with limits typically between $100,000 and $500,000. If the damage is more than the coverage limit chosen, the dog owner is personally responsible. According to the Insurance Information Institute (III), the average dog bite claim in 2003 was $19,162; in 2013 the average cost of a dog bite claim was $27,862. Given today's litigious society, I only see this number increasing.
The frustrating fact is that the number of dog bites has remained relatively flat over the last few years, but the money paid out has increased dramatically. In fact, dog bite claims account for more than one third of all homeowner liability losses that are filed with insurance companies. This equates to insurance companies nationwide paying out $483,700,000 each year! This fact alone is what makes insurance companies hesitant to write certain breeds of dogs.
Which breeds are typically on an insurance company's "dog list"?
Perhaps you have heard about the dog list insurance companies have. This list does exist and varies by company. Some companies have very broad lists, while others are very small. That said, most insurance companies will not write the homeowners insurance for someone with the following breed (either pure or mixed):
- Pit bull
- Doberman Pincher
A company with a more extensive list may also include:
- German Shepherd
- Great Dane
Any dog can bite, so why are certain breeds on the dog list?
The key to understanding insurance is to remember that everything comes down to probability and statistics. Statistics show that though any dog can bite, the probability of certain breeds biting is greater than other breeds. Certain breeds, such as pit bulls, can cause more extensive injuries given the pure muscle tone of their jaws. With so much money on the line for insurance companies, the carrier can simply decide not to take that risk.
What happens to my homeowners or rental insurance if my dog does bite someone?
If your insurance company is notified of a dog-bite claim, you will most likely be notified that your policy will be non-renewed. This is an unfortunate circumstance as it is extremely difficult to secure new coverage without getting rid of the dog. Some non-standard companies in NH will consider writing the insurance;but the policy would most likely include an animal-liability exclusion. This means that if your dog were to bite again, you would be 100% responsible for paying the injuries. As an insurance agent for many years, telling a client this is very difficult.
What if I am a landlord and my tenant has a dog?
At HPM Insurance we strongly encourage all landlords to require their tenant's to obtain renters insurance. This includes coverage for not just their personal property, but also their liability. This is not a guarantee that you would not be named in a lawsuit but the tenant's policy would most likely be the first one to cover the loss. If the tenant does not have a policy and there were a liability claim on your rented property, whether dog related or not, your landlord's policy would most likely have to defend you and possibly pay the claim. Given this fact, we typically recommend that landlords do not allow dogs in the rented units.
"I feel like I should not even get a dog so not to risk my insurance!"
This is definitely not the right mind-set. Most of our staff at HPM Insurance are happy dog owners. We would simply suggest that you are truthful with your insurance company, as again different insurance companies have different guidelines. Two of the carriers HPM represents will take any breed of dog as long as they have successfully passed a dog training class, and we personally meet the dog. If we know you have a dog on the "list" we could explore this option for you vs. a company that would not even consider it.
As any dog can bite, socialize and take your dog obedience training. Such actions can decrease the chance of bad behavior and a possible lawsuit.