The insurance industry is well aware of Americans' boundless affection for pets. In fact, most standard car insurance, home insurance and renter's insurance policies offer a certain level of coverage tied to your pet.
Each insurance company approaches the matter separately, so ask your agent whether and how a policy covers pets.
In most cases, a standard homeowners or renters insurance policy covers your liability should your pet injure someone. There are exceptions, however, for certain breeds and for individual dogs with a history of biting.
Some insurance companies have a list of breeds and crossbreeds they will not insure. Although the list will vary by insurer, it generally includes breeds such as Pit bulls and Rottweilers that tend to have a higher claims history for dog bites.
As long as your breed of dog isn't excluded, the insurer will pay for injuries your pet caused to someone outside your family. The insurer will also cover court costs if you are sued. But the insurer will only be responsible for the liability limits spelled out in your policy.
If a court settlement or judgment is greater than that amount, you must pay the difference out-of-pocket.
Dog bites are a hot topic in the insurance industry. According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bite claims can be blamed for more than one-third of all liability claims paid out by insurance companies. Costs are rising because of high out-of-court settlements, court judgments and health care costs.
Although it may seem unfair, some insurers decline to cover households with certain breeds. Other insurers may agree to insure your home but will exclude your dog from being covered.
Some insurers may charge more to cover certain breeds, or make other stipulations - such as requiring training for a dog or mandating that owners cage, muzzle or chain up the animal.
State Farm, the largest car and home insurance company in the United States, "doesn't refuse insurance based on breed of dog," says Holly Anderson, a State Farm spokeswoman.
However, State Farm does make an exception for Pit bulls in Ohio, where the breed has been designated as "vicious."
"We really believe that there are good dogs and bad dogs. Under certain circumstances, any dog might bite," Anderson says.
A claim involving an individual dog with a history of aggressive behavior might be rejected, however, she says.
In case of a fire or burglary, your homeowners or renters insurance treats your pets and their equipment as property. That means, for instance, that if your cat or dog is killed, your policy will treat the animal like lost property, reimbursing you for the cost of replacement.
Pets hit the road with their owners frequently these days. How can you protect your pet?
Pet health care insurance is available. Owners can purchase this product independently to help pay veterinarian bills when an animal is sick or injured.
Auto insurance also may cover animals. For example, Progressive pays up to $1,000 in veterinary bills or as a death benefit if a dog or cat is hurt in an accident in an insured vehicle. There is no additional charge for the pet coverage - it's included in the standard auto policy.
Also, through the portion of the auto insurance policy known as "comprehensive coverage," Progressive covers pets for injury or death if the insured vehicle is involved in a fire, theft, windstorm, flood or vandalism, says Progressive spokeswoman Miriam Deitcher.
"If your dog or cat is in the car, for example, and the car is stolen and the pet is injured - we would pay on that," she says.
If you're at fault in an accident, your car insurance probably covers vet bills for the other driver's pet riding in the vehicle you hit. The key is the concept of "liability," State Farm's Anderson says.
"If our insured is liable for injuring someone else's pet in an accident, then our policy would cover the costs," Anderson says.
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