Insurance company cites number and severity of claims
By TANYA SOMAROO [email protected]
More dog owners may have to choose between getting homeowners insurance and keeping their four-legged friends.
Allstate Insurance is the latest insurer to expand its “no policy” list of dangerous dogs in an effort to curb the losses associated with dog attacks.
The company will no longer write new policies for the owners of eight additional breeds of dogs — Staffordshire terriers, Dobermans, Rottweilers, chows, Presa Canarios, akitas, wolf hybrids and huskies.
Allstate always had just one breed on its “no policy” list: pit bulls.
That breed has been involved in three incidents of attacking other animals in Lee County during the last few months. None of the attacks involved humans.
In Cape Coral, there were 98 animal bites this year from January through April — up from 68 in the same period last year.
Countywide, dog bites have decreased slightly, from 290 bite cases for January to April 2001 to 284 for the same period this year.
DOG BITE STATISTICS
Nearly 2 percent of the U.S. population is bitten by a dog each year. Most are children.
Ten to 20 people die every year as a result of dog bites in the United States.
Pit bulls, Rottweilers and German shepherds account for 68. 5 percent of dog bite deaths.
Dogs may bite out of fear, to protect their territory or to establish dominance over the person being bitten.
Although genetics play a part in whether a dog will bite, factors such as proper socialization and supervision, humane training, appropriate play and spaying or neutering can prevent dog attacks.
—Source: Centers for Disease Control
Presa Canario, one of Allstate’s blacklisted breeds, is the breed that mauled a woman to death in the hallway of her San Francisco apartment building in January 2001. The owner of that dog was convicted of second-degree murder in March.
Qualsure Insurance Corporation, Axa and Clarenden have had no-policy lists for years. Now other companies are following suit and some have cancelled insurance policies for certain dog owners.
The Florida Department of Insurance has received more than 20 calls from frustrated dog owners whose policies were cancelled during the last year. State insurance laws cannot prevent companies from denying homeowners coverage based on dog ownership.
Allstate, which has more than 700,000 customers in Florida and is writing new policies in Lee County, decided to expand the list of dangerous dogs because of an increase in the number and severity of claims, said Carol Barber, spokeswoman for the company.
Barber said there has been a 25 percent increase in dog bites in Florida during the last year and the average payout for a dog attack is $14,000 to $16,000.
Existing customers who own dogs on the dangerous list will not have to pay higher premiums to keep them or face losing the policy unless the dogs are involved in an attack, she said.
“Rates are not based on having a dog or the type of dog,” she said. “For existing customers, we look at the entire risk. If there is a history with a particular dog, we will look at if we want to continue the policy.”
Barber said no one will be reviewing policies and particular dogs unless the animals have been involved in an incident.
The change is already in effect for holders of Allstate Floridian policies and will soon be in effect for Allstate Floridian Indemnity policy holders, Barber said.
Shirley Podesta of Lehigh Acres owns a German shepherd, which is not on Allstate’s blacklist but is on the list of other insurers.
“It’s a big concern,” said Podesta who has to renew her homeowners insurance this summer.
Podesta was involved in a lawsuit several years ago when her Doberman attacked a guest at a barbecue.
“I’ll never have another Doberman,” she said.
Podesta was insured by State Farm at the time and did not have to pay anything because she had a “Beware of Dog” sign on her gate.
She did not lose her policy or give the dog up, but said she’s now very careful with her dogs.
“My shepherd is really docile, but after that experience I just don’t take any chances,” she said.
State Farm and Allstate have a similar policy of reviewing cases of dog attacks on an individual basis before cancelling policies or raising rates.