Some Dog Breeds Can Effect Homeowners Insurance Policies

MARCH 9, 2004 -- Posted at: 11:00pm

JONESBORO, AR - Insurance companies have changed the way they do business depending on the dog breed you own, but agents say there's a good reason for it. It has to do with statistics regarding the history of certain breeds which are considered aggressive.

A Pit Bull bit a five year old girl and a 22 year old man in Jonesboro last May.

Doctor Connie Hiers, a plastic surgeon, explained, "On adults they're usually hands. On children it's usually face, because that's the dog's level."

Both of them had to have multiple stitches to help their wounds heal.

"It depends on the severity," added Hiers. "Some scars will be visible for life."

The trips to plastic surgeons like Doctor Connie Hiers quickly add up. In fact, more than $310 million was paid out by insurance companies in 2001 for claims and lawsuits filed against dog owners involving dog bites, forcing companies to make changes.

"Anytime an insurance company makes a decision, it's based on statistics or history, and in this situation that was the case," said Brad Shumpert, an associate agent for Nationwide Insurance in Jonesboro.

Nationwide now excludes Chows, Doberman Pinschers, pit bulls (and a few other bull terriers) and Rottweilers from new homeowners insurance policies. There are at least six other companies that have similar policies. Their reasoning: like any other type of insurance, the more policies that are filed, the more insurance rates go up for everyone including those people who don't own dogs.

"There are companies now that will allow exclusions, and some, for higher prices, will even include those dogs," added Shumpert.

Wannda Turner said the problem with the breed-specific policies is that many times it's hard to determine a dog's breed, unless there are certifying papers.

Turner said, "It all has to do with how the owner trains the dog; the situations that the dog... dogs that are socialized will not bite."

She believes policies should only be issued be on a case by case basis.

"The insurance companies should value the dogs in the home, because they do a lot of times protect the home and keep a burglar, you know, or they warn people if there's a fire," added Turner.

Legislators in Michigan and Pennsylvania are working on legislation in their states that would prevent insurance companies from issuing the breed-specific policies that began in the early nineties. Most agents in Arkansas, despite the rules handed down by their headquarters, are willing to work with dog owners.