Jul 6, 2005 5:57 pm US/Pacific
Owners Could Be Forced To Choose: Dog Or Home
California law prevents regulation of specific dog breeds, but dog advocates are worried that legislators will push for new regulations to crack down on pit bulls.
Our own investigation shows that insurance companies are already discriminating against certain breeds, and that practice could become even more common.
Insure.com: home insurance for dog owners
Insurance Information Institute: dog bite liability
Lawyers.com: liability of dog owners
Centers for Disease Control: report on dog breeds and dog bites
Pit Bulls on the Web: site opposed to breed-specific legislation
Dogwatch: site opposed to breed-specific legislation
Ohio dog law: dangerous dogs
Ohio dog law: insurance
Amendments proposed to Ohio dog laws
San Francisco officials want to place city-wide restrictions on pit bulls, but legislation could cause a reaction from insurance companies that would force homeowners to choose between their pets and their homes.
Insurance vendors currently have several options when deciding whether to insure a residence that houses a dog. They can deny insurance all together, they can add a surcharge for certain breeds, or they can deny coverage only for damage caused by the animal.
The breeds that most commonly effect coverage are:
- Doberman Pinscher
- Pit Bull
- Presa Canario
- Wolf or Wolf cross breed
California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi says the breed-specific coverage is within regulations.
"I have no power to force the insurance companies to take on this particular liability," Garamendi says.
State Farm is one of the insurance providers who have not yet placed restrictions on breeds that have a history of aggression.
"At this time, State Farm doesn't deny insurance based on the breed of the dog,? says Janet Ruiz of State Farm. ?We believe that there are good dogs and bad dogs within every breed."
The company once had a similar policy in Ohio. But in 2000, the state passed a law defining the pit bull breed as vicious. State Farm then began denying homeowners insurance to anyone with a pit bull.
"We based it on the fact that the state was willing to define the pit bull as a vicious dog," Ruiz says.
If a similar definition is passed in a California city, insurers are unlikely to change policies. It would simply be too difficult to have policies vary by city. But if pit bulls are labeled dangerous on the state level, State Farm says it would rethink its coverage.
So while insurance companies are not allowed to discriminate against people, they can continue to discriminate against dogs. And pit bull owners may soon be unable to get insurance from anybody.
"I think there's a real good possibility that the insurance industry will not provide insurance if you have one of these vicious animals, pit bulls or one of the other breeds in your house," Garamendi said.
The state will have to change its laws before San Francisco can impose any restrictions on pit bulls. A vote on the changes isn?t likely until the end of the summer.
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