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dog liabilityProperty Casualty 360 and other industry magazines report escalating dog bite settlements. The industry is moving to endorsements and policy language to exclude canine liability. Why doesn’t the insurance industry take a more analytical approach to underwriting household dogs? As dog trainers will tell you, aggression is not breed-specific. Almost any dog improperly socialized, or with dog aggression in its line, will bite. I’ve seen American Kennel Club-elite Labradors, one of the friendliest breeds, that will take a chunk out of you, and German shepherds that wouldn’t bite you if it would save their own or their master’s life.

Rather than deny coverage by breed, why not partner with the American Kennel Club (AKC) and use the Canine Good Citizen program as an underwriting guideline? The Canine Good Citizen must pass 10 temperament tests – for example, allowing a stranger to approach, demonstrating a lack of dog aggression (very important since so many people get bitten when their people-loving dogs tangle with other, not-so-dog-friendly pooches), and the dog’s reaction in a crowd. Evaluators are available in hundreds of locations throughout the United States.

People who love their dogs would happily dole out the small cost associated with their dog’s evaluation rather than face no insurance. This is not a blanket endorsement of the American Kennel Club. However, their Canine Good Citizen certification is a strong indicator of Fido’s friendliness and steady temperament.

The insurance industry has always adapted coverage to meet the needs of a changing society. Dog ownership is not changing; in fact as crime rates escalate, more Americans turn to dogs for their safety. Underwriters do not understand canine temperament. Instead, there has been a knee-jerk reaction to exclude one of our home’s best protectors against burglars, and many Americans’ best friends. Simply, insurers refuse to take a more nuanced approach to underwriting dogs. Using the Canine Good Citizen is a solid approach instead of a blanket exclusion by breed. It might take some time to develop the partnership with the AKC, but in a previous discussion I had with a staff member at the AKC, they are eager to help. 

Americans love their dogs. And dogs will not go away. Instead, more owners will deny they own an excluded breed and insurers will be stuck in coverage battles that will do nothing to further the industry’s image. Additionally, messing with America’s best friends will do nothing to improve the industry’s always struggling image.

It’s time for the insurance industry to wake up and smell the dog food. A more nuanced approach to pet underwriting is a win/win for the industry and for pet lovers everywhere.

 

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