Dog bite victims’ lawyers (like me) have noticed a disturbing trend in recent years: Severe dog bite injuries are growing while insurance coverage for them is shrinking. Why? Two intersecting trends are the root cause:
Trend number 1: Dogs are getting meaner, and meaner. The percentage of new dogs that are pit-bull types (included mixes) has been growing. Pit bulls are now the fifth most popular dog to own, and that number is growing. They account for about 20% of dogs in the USA. The meaner dogs get, the more likely it is for you or your loved ones to become victims.
Trend number 2: More and more homeowner insurance companies are sneaking “dog-attack/bite” exclusions in their policies. Some of the carriers simply refuse to provide any coverage at all for dog-attack injuries. Others exclude only certain breeds – those considered most aggressive – including bit bulls, German shepherds and Doberman pinschers. The dog owner usually discovers the exclusion only after their dog has done the deed.
So, what’s the problem? If you or your loved one (a high percentage of dog bite victims are small children) get mauled by a dog, and are scarred for life, including in the face (many small children receive face-altering scars), you are going to want to get compensation for the medical expenses, lost income and/or pain and suffering. But the meanest dogs who cause the most harm are more likely excluded from insurance coverage. So those who need insurance coverage the most are least likely to get it.
A partial solution has recently been adopted by New York State: The new law prohibits breed specific exclusions of coverage in insurance policies. In other words, they can exclude insurance coverage for all dogs, but they can’t exclude just certain breeds, such as Dobermans or pit bulls.
Dog breeders and owners of aggressive breeds lobbied for this change in law. They see breed-selective exclusions as a kind of “dog racism”. The undercurrent is that there is no such thing as a bad dog breed, just bad dog owners, and that a dog of any breed can be properly trained to be docile.
In a sense they are right: Every dog resembles its owner, and vice versa. The problem is not pit bulls per se, but rather that those who choose to own pit bulls often do so because they want their dog to serve as a hyper-masculine power symbol. Pit bulls tend to cause a larger percentage of serious dog bite injuries not because of a genetic disposition to attack, but because they are usually trained to be aggressive. In other words, it’s nurture, not nature.
Whether the DNA of the pit bull, or the disposition of its owner, is the cause, it cannot be disputed that of the 50 people who died of dog bites last year in the US 36 were attacked by pit bulls and pit bull mixes. It cannot be denied that almost three-quarters of reported pit-bull attacks result in severe injuries.
In any event, it is now illegal in New York for an insurer to singal out certain breeds for exclusion. It’s an all or nothing deal: They either exclude coverage for all dog breeds, or they cover them all. I guess this is good news . . . But it might backfire: More and more insurers might simply exclude all dog attacks from coverage.
Hello Albany. Are you listening? Homeowner’s insurance should be required to cover all dog attacks. Thanks for listening.
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you!
Syracuse NY Dog Bit Injury Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.