What to do if your dog is banned from your homeowners insurance policyIf you think regular trips to the vet are getting expensive, you may be even more surprised to find out your dog is blacklisted by your homeowner’s insurance company. This is the pooch who doesn’t even bark when a stranger comes to the door and yet the policy may refer to your beloved canine as an “excluded” or “prohibited breed,” an “aggressive dog” or a “dangerous dog.”

How is this determination made? There is no one answer to this question as there is no one characteristic of an individual dog that places them on the list. Insurance companies often base the list on the average number of bites reported for a certain breed or on fatality statistics. They may also base their information on government data or private studies, or even on a dog attack on a person that received a great deal of media coverage. Mixed breeds that may have a genetic relationship to a restricted breed may also be included in the blacklisting.

Insurance is all about risk and the Insurance Information Institute (III) reports dog bites account for more than one third of homeowner claims costing about $530 million a year, that’s more than half a billion dollars. According to Canine Journal, the average dog bite claim now costs close to $37,000.

Statistics released by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveal more than 4.7 million Americans are bitten each year and an estimated 900,000 require medical attention. Half of those bitten are children and thousands of postal workers are also dog bite victims.

Which dogs are most often blacklisted?

We reviewed more than 10 published lists of the dogs most commonly blacklisted by insurers. The lists appeared in articles about the topic. Many duplicated or referenced a list published by Einhorn Insurance a few years ago. Einhorn is a San Diego agency that specializes in dog liability insurance and tries to assist pet owners having difficulty with insurance issues.

The Einhorn list includes the following most blacklisted dogs in alphabetical order:

  • Akita
  • Alaskan Malamute
  • American Staffordshire Terrier or Pit Bull Terrier (not a particular breed but often a mix of Staffordshire Bull Terrier, American Bully, and American Staffordshire)
  • Chow Chow
  • Doberman Pinscher
  • German Shepherd
  • Great Dane
  • Presa Canario or Perro de Presa Canario
  • Rottweiler
  • Siberian Husky

The Wolf Hybrid (or Wolf Dog) is also on the Einhorn list of blacklisted dogs. It is technically not a breed of dog, but the animal that results from a mating between a dog and a wolf.

Among the lists that were slightly different than the Einhorn list was one published by CDC based on a 20-year study. Eight of the dogs listed were the same, but Instead of the Akita and the Presa Canario, the Saint Bernard and the Dalmation were listed as “Dogs Most Likely to Bite.”

An article written for psychologytoday.com,”14 Dog Breeds Blacklisted by Insurance Companies” (posted May 27, 2014), included the Einhorn list along with two other dogs, the Mastiff and the Cane Corso. (The list also named Wolf Hybrids and had two listings for Pit Bull types, instead of one, which is how the list added up to 14.)
 In 2017, the website Puppy Toob.com published a list of 20 canines blacklisted by insurers and named all of those on the Einhorn list including the Wolf Hybrid. Puppy Toob listed two types of pit bull terriers and added nine other dogs: the Mastiff, the Japanese Tosa, the Dogo Argentino, the American Bulldog, the Gulf Dong, the Rhodesian Ridgeback, the Bandog, the Boxer and the Bully Kutta, a type of Mastiff. The Japanese Tosa and Pit Bull Terrier are banned in England and the Bandog is banned in other countries, according to the website article.

In March 2018, Canine Journal published a list of “dogs most likely to bite.” Some of the types of dogs listed appear on other lists—the German Shepherd, the Pit Bull, the Bulldog—but many were not named as prone to bite on other lists. They were: the Chihuahua, the Australian Shepherd, the Lhasa Apso, the Jack Russell, the Cocker Spaniel, the Pekingese and the Papillon.

Each time one of these lists is published, its authors are bombarded with comments from those who disagree with their conclusions. According to the psychologytoday.com article, there is no specific scientific evidence for labeling certain dogs. Sometimes news reports of a dog killing an infant will fuel public hysteria and cause a blacklisting.

Some states block dog breed restrictions in homeowner policies

About half of the states have limited breed-specific restrictions on ownership of dogs. For example, there are fewer laws stating a person cannot have a “pit bull” living at their residence (although this does not restrict cities from passing ordinances prohibiting certain dogs within their boundaries).

A few states have gone a step further and passed laws that prevent insurers from enacting dog breed restrictions on homeowner insurance. Pennsylvania and Michigan both have prohibitions governing such denials of coverage.

According to psychologytoday.com, other states have proposed legislation that would not allow an insurer to deny or revoke a policy or increase a premium unless the action is based on the risk associated with a specifically named dog. This would mean the dog has a known history of being aggressive or must have been officially designated as “dangerous” or “vicious.”

Are there any insurance companies that don’t ban certain dogs?

Bless the Bullys.com, a website that aims to educate people and raise awareness about breed discrimination, listed several homeowner insurance companies in a 2018 blog which it says have no specific ban on particular dogs. They include State Farm, Travelers Insurance Company, United Services Automobile Association, Fireman’s Fund, Chubb Group, Mercury Insurance and a few small companies. QuoteWizard also listed Amica and Nationwide as dog-friendlier insurance companies.

It is a good idea to read your homeowner policy carefully because there may be a clause or addendum that excludes coverage for liabilities due to damage caused by a dog. You don’t want to have your dog bite someone and then discover you are not covered for a loss.

Tips for homeowners whose dog may be blacklisted

Here are a few things you can do if you are concerned your dog may be blacklisted by your insurer:

  • Offer to put the dog through behavioral training or show proof of obedience training it has already undergone.
  • Show your agent the research you did before buying that breed of dog which may contradict many myths about its propensities. Document that you to veterinarians, dog trainers and dog breeders who know the characteristics of the animal.
  • Offer to muzzle the dog when he is outside the house. (This seems pretty extreme but might be a last resort for a dog who has already exhibited some bad behavior.)
  • Don’t tell your insurance representative you have a different type of dog than you really own. An insurance policy is a contract and when one of the parties to a contract misrepresents something in the document, it could void the agreement. If there is a claim, it may not be paid.
  • If you don’t know what type of dog you have, don’t guess. You could put him on a banned list when he actually doesn’t belong there. Consider getting a DNA test for your canine so you have a good idea about his or her genetic history. The test costs from $70 to $150. There are less expensive ones but some customers have complained about their reliability.

If you or a member of your family is bitten by a dog, you may be able to receive compensation for the other party’s carelessness or negligence. It’s not only that you may be physically injured in a dog attack, you can also experience lost time at work, medical bills and emotional consequences.

You need to speak with a competent dog bite lawyer as soon as possible. The attorney will help you determine how you should proceed and tell you about the laws in Ohio that will protect your rights. Call Slater & Zurz LLP at 1-888-998-9101 for a FREE initial consultation.