Dog Breed May Affect Homeowner’s Insurance in Maryland

rottweiler2Maryland made the right call by getting rid of the “one bite rule,” which created an assumption that dog owners know their dogs can bite.  In doing so, they effectively nixed a court ruling that said that Pit Bulls are inherently dangerous and imposed strict liability for owners and landlords.  At the end of the day though, insurance companies are most interested in these sort of decisions, since they’re the ones paying out dog-bite claims.  And although the dog breeds may not be as big an issue for Maryland legislators anymore, your insurance company may still discriminate and charge you more based on the type of dog that you have.

Breed Specific Discrimination

Back in 2012, when the Maryland Court of Appeals said that Pit Bulls were inherently dangerous, only one insurance company, Nationwide, excluded dog bites from coverage if they came from specific breeds.  The list of “blacklisted” breeds was:

  • Alaskan Malamute;
  • American Staffordshire Terrier, American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier (“Pit Bull breeds);
  • Akita;
  • Boerbel;
  • Chow Chow;
  • Doberman Pinscher;
  • English Bull Terrier;
  • German Shepherd;
  • Kyiapso;
  • Mastiff, American Bondogge Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff;
  • Presa Canario (Dogo Canario, Canary Dog, Peroo Basto, Verdino);
  • Rottweiler;
  • Siberian Husky;
  • Wolf Hybrid; and
  • any dog that is a mix of an ineligible dog breed

Three other companies simply didn’t offer coverage for homeowners who had these breeds, and one company required applicants to go through “further review” prior to offering coverage.  Naturally, dog owners were not pleased.  So much so, that the Maryland Insurance Administration received complaints from people who were denied coverage as a result of their dog’s breed.  This prompted the General Assembly to actually do something.  In 2013, the Maryland Legislature passed a law forcing insurance companies to let potential and current policy-holders know about any “specific breed” discrimination in their policies.

Insurance companies started to give a little in 2013.  Breed-specific discrimination was relaxed a bit, with fewer companies refusing to insure homeowners with “blacklisted” dogs, showing a trend away from this practice.  Considering that Maryland did away with breed-specific liability, this makes sense.  And before doing so, Maryland canvassed other states with similar laws to get a feel for the impact of breed-neutral liability on homeowner’s insurance.  Only one state said that they specifically prohibit insurance companies from blacklisting certain types of dogs, while the rest let it happen.

What This Means for Dog Owners

Maryland only protects dog owners from denials of coverage here.  Nothing in the law would stop an insurance company from charging higher premiums.  The assumption that your dog is only going to cost you if he/she bites someone is no longer the case.  You could have the friendliest Pit Bull or German Shepard in the world. But your insurance company could hike up your premiums just because your dog is a blacklisted breed.  It’s also a little disconcerting that the doggie blacklist includes mixed-breeds of any of the listed dogs.  If you have a dog that is 99% lab and 1% German Shepard, the insurance company could still charge you more.

As unfair as it may seem, it makes sense from a lawyers’ perspective.  People have their prejudices when it comes to breeds like Pit Bulls, and those prejudices make their way to the jury box.  Those juries are more likely to award higher damages than the insurance companies have to pay out.  But the dog owner still has to face the higher premiums even when their pet is the friendly family dog.

Going Without Dog Owner’s  Insurance

One option for dog owners is to go without insurance.  How much risk are you taking?  The average amount of the payout for settlements and verdicts in these cases is approximately $30,000, excluding attorneys’ fees that insurance would ordinarily cover.  But that number does not fairly characterize the risk, right?  A large verdict in a dog bite case can be a seven figure verdict.   If you have assets and your dog is not covered under your homeowner’s policy, you really need to consider making sure you have the insurance you need to protect your assets.

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