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MA: Bill would stop insurers from canceling policies based on dogs

Discussion in 'Laws & Legislation' started by Vicki, Sep 19, 2013.

  1. Vicki

    Vicki Administrator Staff Member

    Bill would stop insurers from canceling policies based on dogs

    Posted Sep 18, 2013 @ 04:18 PM

    Boston —Some dog owners are forced to choose between their beloved pet and their home insurance, a circumstance that has left some lawmakers musing on what else might cause underwriters to dump a policy.

    Animal advocates and a representative of insurance companies faced off Tuesday over a bill (H 918) filed by Rep. Anne Gobi, a Spencer Democrat, that would bar insurers from denying, canceling or upping the premium on a residential property owner’s liability insurance based on a specific breed of dog that lives on the property.

    “Dog bites accounted for more than one third of all homeowner’s insurance liability claim dollars paid out in 2012, which amounted to more than $489 million,” said Peter Robertson, representing the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, testifying against the bill at a hearing of the Committee on Financial Services. He said, “The total cost of dog bite claims increased by more than 51 percent between 2003 and 2012.”

    The notion that a family pet’s breed could cost the family their home insurance caused some committee members to muse on what might be the next target for insurers.

    “Sounds to me like a slippery slope,” said Rep. Christopher Fallon, a Malden Democrat. “Dogs today, who knows what.”

    “Children,” chimed in Rep. Susan Gifford, a Wareham Republican, prompting guffaws from the lawmakers and lobbyists gathered in the hearing room.

    Insurers’ refusal to provide liability coverage for pit bulls, German shepherds, malamutes, Dobermans, akitas and mastiffs, among some of the breeds noted by advocates, has led to changes in what breeds people keep in their homes, according to some.

    Deborah Wall, a Pembroke resident, said when she went looking for a new dog she at first sought out pit bulls, which she described as “loving and loyal pets,” but after checking with her insurer, Commerce, she “ended up adopting a dog that wasn’t on a list” of dogs that would cause her to lose her insurance.

    Alyssa Krieger, who works at the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said her shelter has a 3-year-old pit bull named Princess whose owners brought her to the shelter because their insurer would not provide coverage.

    “Now she finds herself in a shelter, up for adoption because the insurance company said, ‘No you can’t have that dog,” Krieger told the committee. She said a third of shelter dogs are pit bulls and the “vast majority” are there because of the insurers’ rules, which she said affects renters as well because landlords are in danger of losing liability coverage if a tenant has a banned dog.

    The animal advocates said breed is a flawed means of judging whether a dog is likely to bite, and said they also hoped to identify dangerous dogs and keep them away from the public.

    Robertson rejected the idea of a more involved assessment of a dog’s liability undertaken by an insurer.

    “The company’s got much bigger fish to fry than to go through that process. It’s complicated underwriting for homeowner’s insurance as it is, so I think they might just prefer not to,” Robertson said. He said, “I think our companies would not like to see us heading down that path of stringent controls of underwriting in the homeowner’s market. We might not find as robust a market as we currently have.”

    Bill Ketzer, of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said no other state has passed similar legislation as the bill he is backing. Another MSPCA official said she moved to Vermont where insurers are less apt to ban dogs, perhaps because it is less densely populated than Massachusetts.

    House Chairman Michael Costello, a Newburyport Democrat, said he would like to meet with both sides on the issue but said the legislation’s restriction on insurers’ ability to raise premiums because of dog breed does not comport with him.

    “I couldn’t agree with banning any type of increase, because I think you can make those types of risk assessments,” Costello said.

    Robertson said policies that do not exclude breeds are “available in the marketplace; it may be difficult to find,” mentioning the Fair Plan, an insurer of last resort for people whose property is undesirable to commercial insurers.

    The Fair Plan, a statutorily created entity comprising all the states’ insurers, generally provides insurance to homeowners who have lost coverage because of a dog bite, said Robert Tommasino, general counsel to the Fair Plan. Tommasino said the Fair Plan excludes the dog that bit someone from its coverage.

    Insurers’ refusal to cover certain dogs can come as a rude surprise to dog owners.

    Nancy Fisk, of the Massachusetts Federation of Dog Clubs and Responsible Dog Owners, told the committee of someone who she said invited over a friend, who happened to be their insurance agent, after taking in an Akita from a family member who had died.

    Fisk claimed two days after the visit, the family lost their coverage, and said the dog was a well behaved certified therapy dog. She said cancelation of insurance can throw homeowners’ mortgages into jeopardy.

    Bill would stop insurers from canceling policies based on dogs - Gloucester, MA - Wicked Local Gloucester

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