EDITORIAL: Consider more than breed in setting homeowners’ insurance rates

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PHOTOGRAPHER:

“You only see the stories about a Pit biting someone, you never read about the Chihuahua that also has a propensity to bite.” – Libby Post, executive director of the NYS Animal Protection Federation.

If that’s the justification being used by advocates to argue for legislation that would prohibit homeowners’ insurance companies from raising their premiums or denying coverage based on the breed of dog one owns, they need to come up with something more convincing.

Sharks and salmon are both fish, but they’re not equally dangerous.

Dog breeds with a historic record of causing serious injuries often get singled out for higher premiums. They include pit bulls, German shepherds, Akitas, Rottweilers, huskies, Dobermans and wolf hybrids.

Insurance companies do this not to discriminate, but because more aggressive dogs and bigger bites mean bigger payouts.

In 2020, liability claims related to dog bites and other dog-related injuries cost homeowners’ insurance companies $854 million, based on nearly 17,000 dog bite incidents.

New York ranks second in the country in the highest average cost of claims, about $67,000. They’re not paying out all that money for Chihuahua bites.

And the cost of payouts is rising, increasing 12.3% last year.

The fact is that mixed-breeds and pit bulls have the highest relative risk of biting, as well as the highest average damage per bite, according to the American Animal Hospital Association (not exactly an anti-dog group). Great Danes and Akitas don’t bite as often, but when they do, they can inflict serious wounds.

It’s logical that premiums would be rooted in these statistics.

Still, it’s unfair to base insurance premiums solely on breed, as many companies do.

Much of a dog’s propensity to bite is based on its training, general demeanor, gender, history of abuse and history of biting.

Those factors can’t be assigned exclusively to one breed.

Also, with mixed breeding, it’s often difficult to tell whether a dog falls under one particular breed. Just because it looks like a dangerous dog doesn’t mean it is one.

Better legislation would not outright dismiss breed as a factor in setting insurance premiums, but would require insurance companies to be more specific in identifying risk factors.

Maybe include weight and head shape as factors in setting rates. (Dogs 66-100 pounds with short, wide heads are more likely to bite, according to the AAHA.)

Maybe require companies to give breaks to homeowners with secure fencing, whose dogs have completed training, or that don’t have small children in the home.

It’s irresponsible to ignore the fact that certain breeds of dogs are at higher risk of biting and inflicting serious damage.

But it’s also wrong to punish responsible dog owners with higher rates simply because of the breed of dog they own.

Lawmakers should pass insurance legislation that considers all relevant factors for risk of liability, not just one.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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