When commercial lines insurance agent and dog owner Debbie Turner began to look into help for her difficult dog back in 2000, she had no idea that her journey would end up leading to a new personal lines insurance option.
Now, she believes her new Covered Canine policy could take a bite out of the dog liability insurance marketplace.
Turner, who is president of Dean Insurance Agency in Altamont Fla., says the story behind the coverage began about 12 years ago when her own dog’s behavior issues led to her becoming, as she describes it, “obsessed with dogs’ behavior and trying to fix them.”
It was through this process she realized there was a gap between what questions insurance companies ask when covering dogs on a homeowners or tenant’s liability policy and what they should really know about the actual dog that is being insured. She said there are also many inconsistencies among carriers over what’s covered, or if any coverage is provided at all.
“My research showed that more and more homeowners policies have taken full animal liability out of homeowners or tenants policies, or they are excluding specific breeds,” Turner says. “It seems to be a trend that homeowners and tenant markets are really moving away from providing coverage for animal liability and dog bites are a huge part of that.”
Turner says a conversation with a colleague about a paper she wanted to write about this issue turned into her instead developing the Covered Canine insurance product and the Federation of Insured Dog Owners, or F.I.D.O.
The organization provides dog bite liability insurance through the Covered Canine insurance policy to all breeds of dogs on Great American Insurance Co. paper. The policy is currently available in Florida only, but Turner says as soon as she completes all the filing requirements for other states, she will make it available nationwide through multiple markets.
The available limits are $50,000, $75,000 or $100,000 and Turner hopes to make them higher once the program is up and running. There is also the option to insure the dog off-premises for situations where the dog is taken out on a leash and attacks someone. The policy does not, however, cover “dog to dog” damages.
Customers can go online and rate the policy themselves based on breed, weight and other factors, including whether there are children living in the house and their ages. Applicants are also required to upload a picture of the dog.
She says there are not many circumstances where coverage would be denied, but those that will be have to do with whether a dog is not well-socialized or has been a police dog.
The goal of the rating criteria, she says, is not to exclude any certain breed of dog, but to focus more on the circumstances of the dog’s living arrangements.
“If you rate a pitbull according to the correct lifestyle – such as a fenced in yard, taken to the vet – you can get a $50,000 policy for under $200. You cannot buy that anywhere else,” she says.
There is a $50 fee to join F.I.D.O., which will eventually operate as a 501 (c)(3) charity with part of the membership fee benefiting animal-related causes. Turner says the legal components of that are still in process.
The coverage is only available through F.I.D.O.’s website because Turner says the policy prices are so low that it was not economically feasible for them to be brokered. However, she says that other agents and brokers can benefit from making their clients aware that there is another option out there.
“Because [animal liability] is being removed so consistently from so many personal lines policies, at some point agents are going to start getting sued because they aren’t telling anyone,” says Turner. “From an E&O standpoint, agents need to be telling insureds ‘it’s not covered, but here is a reasonably priced alternative’.”
Turner, whose agency focuses on malpractice, business and real estate insurance, says she began working on F.I.D.O. last year and just launched the organization in July. No policies have been bound yet but she is hoping to see about 12,000 in the first year.
She says developing F.I.D.O. has been an arduous process because her agency doesn’t focus on personal lines and she didn’t realize at first that this would be a personal lines product. Dealing with the regulatory issues of filing a non-admitted master policy in all states has been difficult, but she says they are being very careful to take all the necessary steps, “We need to make sure we are in compliance to be able to write,” she said.
She plans to donate part of the F.I.D.O. money to causes that help educate people about dog behavior and how they interact with people, a promise that is listed under the mission statement section of the F.I.D.O. site. She thinks this education can be an eye-opener for people and help prevent bad situations for dog owners and their pets.
“All dogs are animals and may bite… people really are very, very naïve about if or when a dog will bite. They don’t get it,” says Turner.