If you're shopping around for homeowners insurance, you'll probably want to make sure that it covers things like flooding, wintertime slip-and-fall injuries on your property, even sinkhole damage. You probably aren't thinking about whether it will cover the family dog. And you certainly wouldn't guess that the kind of dog you have could cause your policy to be rescinded.
But that's exactly what Susie Salazar's pit bull, Gauge, ended up costing her. Salazar, who lives in Greeley, Colo., had an employee from American Family Insurance come by her home to check out a plumbing claim that she had. The employee met Gauge and asked Salazar what breed he was. A couple of weeks later, an AFI rep called Salazar to tell her that the company was dropping her policy, KUSA-TV in Denver reported.
"We were informed that you have a pit bull in your home, and we have to drop your coverage," Salazar recalled being told by the AFI rep. "I'm mad, I'm upset," Salazar continued. "They don't even know my dog. They don't know what kind of dog he is. He's just full of joy and love. He's just a happy, happy dog." She said that AFI had insured her for 17 years, and she didn't sign any paperwork that mentioned anything about pit bulls. She's had Gauge for four years.
"These are tough situations," AFI spokesman Steve Witmer told KUSA. "Many years ago, we made a decision that there were certain breeds of dogs that we would no longer insure, and pit bulls are one of those breeds." Witmer explained that the costs of dog-bite claims were too high for the company to continue to cover.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bites made up more than a third of homeowners insurance liability claims in 2011 and cost insurance companies a total of $478.9 million. That was up 16.1 percent from 2010 and 47.7 percent from 2003. The average cost per claim in 2011, the Institute said, was $29,396. Sixty-two percent of U.S. households -- or 72.9 million -- own a pet, according to the American Pet Products Association. Of those, 46.3 million own a dog.
Salazar said her pit bull is like family and should not be a reason to have her homeowners insurance policy denied. "You treat them the same way you treat your kids," she said. There are other insurance companies who do cover pit bulls, but the premiums may spike to cover a dog, according to Bankrate.com.