Buying or rescuing a new pup is an exciting time. But dog ownership with any breed opens pet parents up to new responsibilities regarding potential liabilities from injuries. Personal liability insurance provided by homeowners and renters policies can help protect against accidents that result in injury to someone on your property, including injuries and damage caused by pets.
Still, some insurers are wary of certain breeds that have aggressive reputations, like pit bulls, chows, and german shepherds. For a better understanding, we break down how owning pit bulls and certain other breeds affects your existing liability insurance coverage, and alternative options if you’re denied coverage because of your pet’s breed.
- Many insurance companies won’t provide liability coverage for breeds considered aggressive or those with powerful bites.
- Michigan and Pennsylvania are two states with laws prohibiting insurers from either denying or canceling your coverage due to your dog’s breed.
- Renters with service or emotional support dogs are afforded extra protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act.
- Some insurers have more dog-friendly policies than others.
- Umbrella insurance and dog liability insurance are alternatives to consider.
Why Dog Breed Matters to Insurers
As a pet owner, you could be held legally liable if your dog injures someone or causes property damage to nonoccupants of your home. Fortunately, homeowners and renters insurance may pick up the bill to the extent of your policy’s liability limits ($300,000 for many policies). That’s true whether incidents happen at your home or somewhere else, and whether or not you’re present.
Most policies cover dog bites, but some insurers have exclusions for certain dog breeds and dogs that have previously caused injuries. If your pet’s breed is on the list, insurers may exclude your dog from coverage or raise your premium. If you later get a dog, the insurance company considers aggressive or high-risk, you still need to report it to your insurer—not doing so could result in your coverage being cancelled.
Dog incidents cost insurers dearly, with companies like State Farm paying out almost $157 million for dog-related injury claims in 2020 alone. Pit bulls receive a lot of media attention as aggressive dogs, but that might be an unfair depiction. A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) concluded that other breeds may have higher bite and fatality rates than pit bull and Rottweiler breeds. Moreover, the AVMA noted that “neither pit bull-type dogs nor Rottweilers can be said to be more ‘dangerous’ than any other breed based on this study.”
That said, the study did show that those breeds combined played a part in over half of the deaths recorded from dog-bite attacks in the 20-year period studied. The seeming mixed messages haven’t helped assuage fears, and the study has been used inappropriately, according to the AVMA, to infer breed-specific risk for dog-bite fatalities.
It’s your responsibility to disclose any animals living with you, regardless of whether the agent or online quote process explicitly asks you. Notifying your insurer of a recent pet you acquired also allows you to talk with your agent about how to protect you from dog-related liabilities.
Do Homeowners and Renters Insurance Cover Pit Bulls?
Pit bull owners may feel targeted by insurers since many won’t provide coverage for them. But dogs classified as pit bulls are just one of many breeds typically considered aggressive by insurers. While specific exclusion lists vary, many include:
- American bulldogs
- Doberman pinschers
- German shepherds
- Great Danes
- Mixed-breed dogs
- Pit-bull-type dogs
- Presa Canarios
- Siberian huskies
- Wolf hybrids
Dogs making the list are typically muscular canines with powerful bites. If you own a dog that’s on your insurer’s aggressive-breed list, you’ll likely have a policy clause excluding coverage for your dog.
Research published in 2010 showed that the average cost of emergency treatment for dog-related injuries averaged $18,200, an amount pet owners would then be responsible for. In 2020, the average cost per dog-related injury claim was a whopping $50,425. If lawsuits are involved, figures could skyrocket even further.
Michigan prohibits insurers from denying, cancelling, or not renewing homeowners insurance coverage if you have certain breeds. Pennsylvania prohibits insurers from cancelling your policy, but they can decide not to renew an existing policy if there is a demonstrable "increase in hazard" caused by the dog.
In New York and Nevada, insurers cannot use a dog's breed as the sole basis to deny an application or charge extra.
Renters with service animals, regardless of breed, have protections under the Fair Housing Act: Landlords can’t deny you housing, request deposits, or charge fees because of service or support animals you own. The FHA laws also apply to homeowners insurance companies, but may not apply to certain types of housing, such as a building with four or fewer units or private clubs.
However, these laws are not always followed by homeowners insurance companies. In 2015, The Fair Housing Council of Oregon (FHCO) filed a federal lawsuit against Travelers Insurance to enforce provisions of the Fair Housing Act. The FHCO used testers that posed as someone with a disability and owner of a pit bull assistance animal. The testers attempted to get homeowners insurance through Travelers. In all of the four tests, callers were denied quotes for insurance.
Pit Bull-Friendly Insurance Options
If you’re having difficulty finding liability insurance that covers your pit bull, here are some options to look into:
- State Farm: State Farm Insurance doesn’t ask for your dog’s breed when creating home or renters policies and is the top recommended firm by BADRAP, a non-profit founded to support pit bulls. Instead, State Farm uses the dog’s bite history to determine risk.
- USAA: USAA doesn’t have dog breed restrictions, preferring to ask instead about any previous aggressive behavior the dog has displayed or bites to people and other animals.
Other sources for pit-bull friendly insurance are:
Federation of Insured Dog Owners, Inc.
Farmer's Insurance (although it's easing out of California)
A personal umbrella policy (PUP) provides or extends additional liability protection beyond your car or homeowners insurance policy, and may include coverage for dog bites. You’ll likely need to have minimum liability limits under your property insurance (such as $300,0000) before you’re able to get an umbrella policy. These requirements vary by insurer.
Dog Liability Insurance
Dog liability insurance can either be a stand-alone insurance policy or an endorsement to your existing homeowners policy if your insurer offers it. If they do, the endorsement typically provides $25,000 to $50,000 in liability limits. Some dog liability insurance policies even cover dogs determined to be dangerous or vicious.
Some insurers offer liability protection only when your dog is on your property. Read policy terms and conditions carefully to see if incidents outside the home are covered.
How To Protect Your Dog and Yourself
Dog bites are usually a fear reaction, and although your dog may be the sweetest, you can’t predict how they’ll react in every situation. It’s crucial for dog owners to take their liability seriously, as it’s easy for dog-related incidents to break the bank if you don’t have the right coverage.
It’s also smart for pet owners to take proper actions in protecting their dog to reduce the likelihood of them harming other people or things. Dog training is helpful in preventing bad situations and teaching your dog that you’re in charge.
Also, consider altogether avoiding situations that could incite your dog to be fearful or aggressive. This could mean saying no to children who run up and want to pet your dog. A firm no from you is better than a dog growling or worse. Protecting your pet and practicing awareness is especially important for rescue dogs who may have a rough history that you don’t know about.