Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Breed Bias in Home Insurance

Dear Jack Russell Terriers, Chihuahuas, Dachshunds, Labs, Goldens and friends,

Welcome aboard the breed discrimination bus!

Insurance companies are in the business of making money. One of the ways they do that is by minimizing their risks in writing a policy. Some insurance companies consider how likely the homeowner might be to file a claim for injury caused by a dog. So instead of having a qualified behaviorist evaluate each dog as an individual - the only true (albeit costly) means of assessing a dog's potential for human aggression - they rely on various other sources for their information:

Where are insurance companies getting their lists of what they perceive to be "aggressive" dogs? Without knowing, it's difficult for home- and dog owners to discern which breeds are acceptable and which aren't.

As it turns out, there's no standard list insurance companies follow, but dogs can factor in when an insurer is reviewing your new customer application. And it's not just the breeds typically thought of as aggressive, such as pit bulls, Rottweilers, chow chows, Doberman pinschers and German shepherds.


"The real problem is that there is so much conflicting information (about aggressive breeds), that you don't know what to believe," says Donna Popow, senior director of knowledge resources for the Insurance Institute of America, a nonprofit offering insurance education in Malvern, Pa. "Any dog will bite, given the right set of circumstances."

True, but most dogs don't bite. And fear of having to pay out on dog bite claims is an overhyped bit of hysteria to my mind, used by more than just insurance companies in advocating discrimination based on a dog's physical apprearance.

So what can a dog owner in need of home insurance do?

Before telling your insurance company that you have what they may consider an aggressive dog, [Ledy] Van Kavage, of the Best Friends Animal Society, suggests you have some coverage lined up with another insurance company. Insurance companies differ on breeds they deem aggressive and some go by which breeds in your state have bitten the most.

Van Kavage also cautions that when you own a mixed-breed dog, don't offer your insurance company a guess on what the predominant breed in the mix is. "It's impossible to guess correctly what the breed is unless you have a DNA test done," Van Kavage says.

And I guess you definitely would not want to say you have a Golden-Pit-Chiweenie mix.


Lisa said...

From an individual perspective, yes, dog bites are rare. Astonishingly rare, really.

But from an actuarial perspective (or a journalistic one), they're pretty common. That's an important thing to keep in mind when you see news stories about non-fatal dog attacks. There is always some other aspect of the story that makes "dog bites man" newsworthy.

And as horrible as any kind of breed discrimination is, I have to admit I take a little bit of wicked pleasure in seeing some breeds usually classified as 'safe' breeds being labeled as potentially dangerous.

Too many people ignore or excuse signs of aggression in not just small breed dogs, but also larger breeds like Labs and Goldens, because they have a reputation as being safe, family dogs.

YesBiscuit! said...

To me, it almost seems as if they are asking "Do you have a popular breed of dog?" because if you look at statistics, there will naturally be more bites from breeds there are more of in people's homes. I mean, I wouldn't guess anyone is going to be denied insurance because they own a Harrier.

Lisa said...

I hadn't thought of that, but you're absolutely right. Any breed of dog they've heard of is probably on a bite list somewhere.

Good thing I registered my mutt as a "Chupacabra mix" with the city.

zubiemom said...

My homeowner's insurance threatened to cancel me about 10 years ago. They said dogs of any kind over 40 pounds were too risky. I pulled out class graduation, CGC, and AKC title certificates to prove they were trained and socialized, and the insurance company backed down. I'm just glad I do have proof that they are trained!