By Lauren Foy
Lauren Foy was asked to write the following article for the New England Mushers Association as part of their newsletter. Take a look at what she had to say about homeowners insurance and dogs.
Not many people consider how their pets can affect their homeowner’s insurance coverage. However, dogs are one of the most important underwriting questions to most carriers. Before deciding to accept your insurance applications many insurers will need to know how many dogs you have, how they are restrained on and off your premise, and if they have any history of aggressive behavior. Some companies have a list of dog breeds that they will not accept or will not accept a certain number of dogs.
A standard homeowner’s policy includes some level of personal liability coverage. This coverage gives you some protection for lawsuits against youself due to damage caused by you or on your property. A common example is someone falling down your stairs and injuring themselves. The injured party has the right to sue you for their damages. Your homeowners policy has the duty to defend you in this lawsuit and can help pay for your damages. This is a simple example but there are many other situations in which you could be facing a similar lawsuit.
Dog bites and injuries are one of the most costly types of homeowners liability claims seen by insurance carriers. Many of us consider our dogs as an integral part of our families, but they also open us up to a large liability exposure. New Hampshire state law lists dog ownership as a “strict liability”. In short, this means that you are liable for any damages your dog causes, regardless of fault or intent.
The NH law 466:19 Liability of Owner or Keeper currently reads, “Any person to whom or to whose property, including sheep, lambs, fowl or other domestic creatures, damage may be occasioned by a dog not owned or kept by such person shall be entitled to recover damages from the person who owns, keeps or possesses the dog, unless the damage was occasioned to a person who was engaged in the commission of a trespass or other tort. A parent of guardian shall be liable under this section if the owner or keeper of the dog is a minor” (Rev. 466:19). After reading this law, you can see that the only exclusion to your liability is if the injured party was trespassing on your property or participating in any other tort, such as assault or battery. In any other situation the owner or keeper of your dogs is liable for any damage they cause.
The issue of dog ownership strict liability may not seem like a large issue to you; you are a responsible dog owner, your dogs are always properly restrained and well-trained. However this is a large concern to the company that carries your insurance. The company has no way of knowing your great reputation and all they see is a kennel of liability exposures. Since New Hampshire has instituted the law of strict liability insurance carriers have no way of rectifying the money they pay out for a dog bite from the at-fault party. This results in most insurance carriers being very restrictive in their acceptance of homeowners with dogs.
Insurance carriers will become even more restrictive in the case of a homeowner with a history of a dog bite. If one of your dogs ends up biting another person you could be quickly facing a non-renewal notice. This non-renewal will call for either the cancellation of your homeowners policy or the permanent removal of your dog from your property. Once you receive one of these notices it is harder to find coverage in the standard market for your homeowners policy. This could force you to place your homeowners insurance in the surplus or specialty market. These markets do not always offer the same level or amount of coverage as a standard insurance policy would. Typically, with a history of dog bites a surplus lines policy will exclude any future claims involving all animals. This can leave you financially exposed.
The last thing that you want is to leave yourself open to unnecessary exposures. It is important to remember that an insurance company has the right to inspect and reinspect your property as the years progress. If they find any concerns about your home, in addition to the dogs, they are more likely to want to stop coverage. We are constantly telling customers that insurance carriers are becoming more and more picky about the homes they choose to write. With the undesirable condition of owning multiple dogs it is harder to convince a company to turn a blind eye to any other undesireable conditions.
Finding the right insurance agent will help you find secure, adequate and reasonable insurance coverage. Independent insurance agents generally write with many different carriers so they have access to many different insurance markets. It is important that you have an open and honest conversation with your insurance agent. When your agent is prepared with all the available information on your hobby and dogs, they are more able to find you the best fit for insurance coverage.