Conn. Dog Bill Would Muzzle Insurers

May 9, 2005

When Connecticut state Rep. Melissa Olson called around for homeowner’s insurance recently, an agent on the other end of the line asked what kind of dog the Norwich Democrat owned.

Olson didn’t really know for certain, but guessed that her pet was a shepherd/husky mix. Almost immediately, the agent informed Olson that her request for coverage had been denied.

“The agent never saw the dog,” Olson said. “Insurance companies simply cannot deny, refuse to issue coverage, based solely on the breed of the dog.”

Last week, enough of Olson’s colleagues in the House of Representatives agreed and narrowly passed a bill that bans insurance companies from refusing coverage based only on dog breed. The bill passed on a 77-70 vote and it awaits action in the Senate.

The bill does allow insurers, however, to use breed when underwriting a homeowner’s or renter’s policy. For example, they could require owners of particular breeds to have their animals neutered or take the dogs to obedience training. It is part of an effort to reduce the possibility of the dogs biting someone.

Rep. Robert Megna, D-New Haven, the bill’s main proponent, said five of the top 10 homeowner’s insurance companies will not issue policies to people who own particular breeds of dogs, such as pit bulls and Rottweilers. Of the remaining five companies, some have breed-based underwriting criteria, such as requiring the dog to be contained in a secure, fenced-in yard.

Megna said such breed blacklisting hurts the responsible dog owners. He said they are sometimes unable to obtain regular homeowners insurance and are forced to pay exorbitant rates in alternative insurance markets.

“This process is simply unfair,” said Megna.

But many legislators said it is unfair for the Connecticut General Assembly to restrict private insurance companies from making decisions on who gets coverage and at what rates based on a risk evaluation.

“If you have a pit bull versus a Chihuahua, or a floppy-eared beagle, you can make no distinction of that. That’s what this law says,” said Rep. Lawrence Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk. “It’s contrary, in my humble opinion, to every principle of insurance that we have allowed.”

According to the New York-based Insurance Information Institute, dog bites in the United States accounted for a quarter of all homeowners’ insurance liability claims in 2003, costly roughly $321.6 million.

In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that more than 4.5 million people were bitten by dogs that year. An estimated 800,000 of the injuries required medical attention. The insurance institute estimates that the average dog bite that year cost insurers $16,600.

Rep. Sonya Googins, R-Glastonbury, said she believes the bill would ultimately hurt Connecticut’s insurance industry and have ramifications on people who don’t own dogs.

“No other state, never mind “The Insurance State” — which I like to think is still “The Insurance State” — has such a law in place,” Googins said.

It’s unclear whether the bill will survive a Senate vote. Senate President Pro Tem Donald E. Williams Jr., D-Brooklyn, hasn’t looked over the bill yet, but he expressed some initial concerns.

‘”From what I understand it would give our insurance industry a significant jolt in a way that they’ve not experienced in any state,” he said. “My initial reaction is that we’d want to give pretty careful scrutiny to a bill that might hurt insurance jobs in Connecticut.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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