Is Your Dog on the Insurance Blacklist?

German Shepherd
Magnus Bråth/FlickrIf your dog's breed is blacklisted, an insurance company can refuse to write you a homeowner's policy.

Your dog may be your best friend, but that adorable pit bull, Rottweiler, even a fox-faced Schipperke may be on an insurance company's blacklist of "dangerous dogs." If a breed is blacklisted, your insurance company may either refuse to write you a homeowner's policy, or write a policy that excludes any claims related to your dog.

Is Fluffy on the list? Hard to know, because the list is a moving target that changes with the region, underwriter, and a particular insurance company's claim history.

"If a company hasn't paid off claims on a particular breed in a while, that type of dog may be knocked off the list," says Loretta Worters of the Insurance Information Institute in New York City. "If other%VIRTUAL-pullquote-"When it comes to dog bites, the lawsuits go through the roof. % breeds experience more problems, they'll put them on the list."

Even the nightly news can propel a breed onto the bad dog list.

In 2001, the media widely covered the lurid death of a San Francisco woman mauled by two Presa Canarios, thick-necked but usually docile dogs originally bred in the Canary Islands as farm helpers.

"Although the Presa Canario remains a quite rare breed in North America, it now seems to appear on every prohibited dog breed list issued by the insurance companies," says dog expert Stanley Coren in Psychology Today.

Insurance underwriters aren't dog haters (necessarily), but they are number crunchers and risk evaluators who recognize that dog bites accounted for a third of all insurance liability claims in 2013, amounting to $483 million in payouts -- with an average $30,000 per claim.

"We'll sue each over anything," says Mark Carrasquillo, a New York City insurance broker for the past 25 years. "And when it comes to dog bites, the lawsuits go through the roof. It could be just a little nip on the ankle by a Chihuahua."

Most dangerous dog lists are based on a 2002 study by the U.S. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control that looked at deaths resulting from dog bites over a 19-year period. Pit bulls and Rottweilers topped the list and accounted for half the 238 deaths where breeds were known, followed by German Shepherds and Huskies.

Some surprising killers were Great Danes, known as gentle giants, and St. Bernards, who have rescued Alpine skiers for centuries.

Carrasquillo says that he's seen Chow Chows and Shar Peis on dog blacklists. In fact, Carrasquillo said that he feared that he would be blackballed from getting an umbrella liability insurance policy because he owns a pit bull-mix named Max.

So, on the application, he described Max as a "chocolate lab mix," and was granted the policy.

"It was probably an accommodation for me because I'm a broker," he says.
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