Debbie Turner got into the canine liability insurance issue after she adopted a schnauzer, named Jazz, who had personality issues.
She began to learn the different aspects of canine behavior so she could try and figure out why Jazz was so broken. Jazz led a long and healthy life and ultimately died of old age.
“But somewhere it just hit me that the insurance industry is not underwriting the canine exposure,” she said. She became interested in canine behavior and “found insurance companies just do not know how to underwrite this risk,” she said in an interview about what led her to start Dean Insurance Agency and the website dogbitequote.com.
Jazz the Schnauzer
“I started working on this pet insurance and canine liability issue in the summer of 2010 doing a research paper. When a friend read it and said, ‘That’s not a research paper that is an insurance policy.’
“For me this is a passion. As a child I saw my mother dump our family pet on the side of the road. I looked back and saw him trying to catch us. I can remember screaming and crying. I guess there were not a lot of options back them. I did rescue for 10 years. So my passion – I think I am still trying to save that dog that was dropped off by my mother in the wilderness. That is how it all came about,” she told Rental Housing Journal in an interview.
“Now I am saving pets every day all over the country,” Turner said because research shows the main reason pets end up in animal shelters is owners cannot find rental housing for themselves and their pets.
Matthew Wildman, former pet retention manager for The Humane Society of the United States told Rental Housing Journal last year, “There is so much misinformation out there. Our position is allowing pets in rental housing is good for business. Hundreds of properties allow dogs and cats without restrictions on breed.” He said the number one reason animals are sent to shelters is because of rental situations where they cannot keep a pet.
Turner said she gets a lot of questions from multifamily property owners, landlords, apartment property managers and tenants. So she put together a list of seven of the most asked questions about pet insurance and canine liability insurance.
1. Can a landlord or property manager require that tenants buy canine liability insurance? What about service dogs, emotional support dogs and therapy dogs?
Answer: Generally but they cannot require it if the dogs are any of the labels that the Fair Housing Act protects, like seeing eye or emotional support. The key to a true service dog, is one who has been trained to do one thing to improve the life of the owner. If it is a service dog you are allowed to ask what the dog does? If it is a dog being used as any of the many titles now being used the landlord could agree to pay for the policy ( a reasonable accommodation) the policy would be in the owner’s name but the landlord would still be named as an additional insured. I also think there may be different rules if there are less than four units.
2. How much does it cost a year?
Answer: Each dog is rated as an individual so it varies, small dogs could be under $200 annually a Cane Corso just rated out, he weighed 130 pounds, for the $50,000 insurance limit at around $650 including the fees and taxes.
3. Can a landlord or property manager buy a canine liability policy to cover the whole apartment complex and all dogs in it?
Answer: Right now the only way is to require each dog owner to purchase a policy and add the Landlord as an additional insured, much the way typical renters insurance works.
4. How many people with dogs in apartment complexes have canine liability insurance?
Answer: More every day, the lawsuits are no longer just about bites. If your dog scratches, trips or knocks someone over you are liable. Worst one yet was a child who knew the dog lived on a near-by property. The child approached the property knowing the dog would be there. The dog never left its property, but when the child turned to run, he broke his ankle to the tune of $175,000.
5. Can you insure all breeds and types of dogs?
Answer: Yes, but I do not insure wolf hybrids as they are not considered a “dog.”
6. Can you insure a dog that has bitten someone in the past?
Answer: I review the applications individually when certain behavior histories come up. For example, if the dog has killed another animal and the owner reached in to separate the dogs and was bitten, there is a surcharge but I would probably write the policy.
7. What important advice do you have for landlords and property managers?
Answer: One of the most important things landlords should do is print out exactly what limit, $25,000, $50,000, $100,000, or $300,000 they want and the exact wording of the additional insured’s information. Otherwise every tenant will buy $25,000 without an additional insured endorsement. We can change that but it can take several weeks to get the evidence from the insurance company. Also, all of these policies are not created equal I would urge the landlords to review the coverages. It is great to say you have insurance but quite another to find out when there is a claim that the policy was so narrowly defined that there is no coverage.
Debbie Turner and Largo
Dogs are still animals and they can bite in certain situations
Turner says she has found out a lot from talking with animal control officers around the country.
“Many people say, ‘oh my dog won’t bite, or my dog will lick you to death.’ There is a total innocence among dog owners that their dog won’t hurt or bite anyone for any reason. I had a trainer tell me his dogs were bullet proof. But they are still animals and given the right set of circumstances will bite. That is scary when people say their dog is bullet proof because means they do not have any concept their dog could bite,” Turner said.
“I have written about 2,500 policies. The majority of the dogs insured are on the dangerous lists. I have very few little dogs.
Turner can offer solutions for several different situations.
“I tell landlords if they cannot get through my underwriting criteria, think twice about allowing that dog to come into the property,” she said.
She said some commercial liability policies are starting to take canine liability insurance out of those policies so owners, landlords and property managers should check.
Insurance companies and dog breeds they insure can vary
“I started doing the statistics on what is the likelihood that any given dog will injure a person. There are 83 million dogs, more than 400 million people, and about 400,000 got to the hospital in a year because of an injury from a dog.
“It was difficult to convince the insurance companies that this would not have large loss ratios because they are positive that this is all about pit bulls and the list of dangerous dogs has grown from one or two to 10 or 15. But they are not the same for every company.
“One company will declare a Weimaraner is a dangerous dog. No other company will declare it a dangerous dog. So what that tells me is they had a really bad claim with a Weimaraner. Now to fix it they are not going to insure any more Weimaraners. There is no logic in that, but I think that is the way this all ends up,” she said.
Canine liability and service dogs, emotional support dogs and therapy dogs
“There are now a psychiatric care dogs and the things we are finding they can assist with grows by the day. Service dogs are consideredby FHIA as a medical device. You cannot request a person with a service dog to do anything,” Turner said.
“Landlords asked me how to do this. If they make it mandatory for tenants to buy canine liability insurance, most will be happy to do it because they are delighted to live there with their dog. There might be a small percentage that know they cannot be required to buy canine liability insurance in that case I have suggested – it says you have to make “reasonable accommodate” and I am writing pit bulls for $300 – would that be considered a “reasonable accommodation?” By a court? I am thinking so.
“So I have suggested to landlords here is an option – if a tenant is resisting buying a policy go tell them what you would like to do is buy it on their behalf. It will be in their name and the landlord will be added as an additional insured and they will have the coverage for $300 a year. That is a huge solution to a major problem.
I have talked to people with true service dogs who have said they know they cannot be required to buy the insurance, but they like the idea anyway because they will be protected and the landlord will be protected so “ I am just going to buy it,’ they said. “
Turner thinks most people will buy the policies because of the difficulty of finding a place to rent with a pet.
Education is a still a huge issue.
Debbie developed the Canine Liability Policy offering protection for dog owners in the event their dog(s) injures a person or another animal. Each dog is individually underwritten examining those characteristics that play a part in the propensity for dog biting. Policy limits range from $25,000-$300,000. Debbie also has the ability to include additional insureds if required. In stark contrast to other programs, Canine Liability insurance does not exclude any particular breed of dog; this approach is central to Debbie’s unique understanding of dog behavior that has turned underwriting this risk on its floppy ear. You can contact her at 800-721-3326 ext 101 and reach her at www.dogbitequote.com.