Check Your Homeowners Insurance Policy If You Own One Of These Dogs
Of late some insurance companies are placing endorsements in people’s homeowners policies that limit payments for dog bites if the dogs are of a particular breed. These breeds often include “Pitbull, Rottweiler, Akita, German Shepard, Chow and Doberman Pinscher.” By nature not all of these dogs are vicious. Should a bite occur though the resulting injuries can be severe due to the strength of these breeds, especially “Pit Bulls”.
Dangerous Breed Limitation
Almost without exception, the homeowner that thinks he/she has purchased $300,000.00 in liability protection had no idea that if his/her dog bites that he/she now only has perhaps as low as $25,000.00 in available protection. This limitation greatly exposes the homeowner to significant liability with potential financial ruin since dog bite cases usually result in nasty scarring and thus have great value. Nearly always exceeding this very low limitation amount.
The homeowners declaration sheet that lists coverages clearly states “$300,000.00” for personal liability and makes no mention of a dangerous breed limitation. Buried deep within the actual policy language is this limitation, which is almost never explained to the homeowner by the agent and likely not ever even read by the homeowner when the actual policy arrives. So how on earth is this “limitation” ever really contracted for? It isn’t and thus should not be enforceable. When I come across an insurance company trying to limit payment for my dog bite victim client I make sure the insurance company knows that we will challenge this as not enforceable.
Vague Term for Pitbull
Another point of challenge comes with the term “Pit Bull”. Pit Bull is not a breed. And the term Pit Bull, as a result, is vague and ambiguous under the policy. To be a “Pit Bull”, the dog must be American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier or Staffordshire Pit Bull. And the only way to truly establish if the dog is part or full-bred of one of these accepted breeds is to do DNA testing. Shelters, police and laypeople often slap the label “Pit Bull Mix” on a dog simply because of its appearance. This does not make it a Pit Bull. It must be one of the acknowledged breeds or it is not a Pit Bull and the policy limitation cannot apply.
Many Shelters very loosely use the term “Pit Bull Mix” when assigning a breed thus accounting for sometimes as high as 30-50% of their adoption available dogs in this broad breed description. Again, this does NOT make the dog a “Pit Bull”.
A recommendation I make to ALL homeowners is if you have a dog make sure that your homeowner policy does not have one of these dangerous dog limitation clauses. If it does, find a legitimate insurance carrier that does not have such a clause and switch insurances.
Attorney Dave Wattel Esq.