Insurance Companies Discrimination Based on Breed
Written by Steve Dale   

            Margie Foshe says she was stunned when without warning her homeowner’s insurance policy from Rockford Mutual was cancelled. After all, she paid her premiums on time. She did make two claims (which totaled under $3,000 for gutter and swimming pool repairs) several years back. She says she was “amazed” to read the company’s explanation for non-renewal: “Pitbulls – are not allowed.”

            Although, Foshe admits that her dog Mocha does have features common to pit bulls, he’s not actually a pit bull, per se. That explanation fell on deaf ears. Also, she was told the fact that Mocha, who is 5-years old, has never been involved in a claim and has ever been accused of being a problem is, “irrelevant.”

            When searching for a replacement homeowner’s policy, Foshe, who lives in Lee, IL (outside DeKalb) learned of that she’s guilty of a double whammy. Her other dog, a 7-year old Rottweiler mix, named Radar, also turned out to be a liability just because many company’s profile Rottweilers as well as dogs who resembles pit bulls.

            Insurance company’s who discriminate based on breed have their own individual “blacklists” which varies from carrier to carrier. The Doberman, Akita and even German shepherd dog often appear such lists. According to a 2006 story in the Boston Globe one company even refuses to sell homeowners insurance to people who own Yorkshire Terriers.

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            Dawn Howard of Bolingbrook, IL says she never would have believed such a thing, until her insurance company, Allstate, decided to hike her premium solely because, as her agent explained, “You own a breed with high incidents of being dangerous and biting.” She has Chihuahuas. “I really thought they were joking,” she says. “If it weren’t so stupid, I would be laughing.”

             Washington State Representative (2nd Legislative District) Tom Campbell (R) is darn serious about getting a law passed (House Bill 1105) to prevent insurance companies from discriminating against dog owners based on breed alone. This will be his fourth year at trying to buck the formidable insurance lobby and get the bill through. He says he’s not giving up. “This is bigotry,” he says.

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Rep. Campbell's canine family

            One can argue Campbell’s overly sensitive about the issue. After all, he’s a Rottweiler breeder, though he says he’s personally lucky that his own insurance carrier isn’t among those discriminating, at least not yet.

            In Illinois, State Senator (District 39, Oak Park) Don Harmon (D) is from the opposite side of the aisle, and doesn’t even own a dog – but he’s sponsoring a similar bill (Senate Bill 1279). “This isn’t a political issue, it’s a matter of right and wrong,” he says. “I have no problem with insurance companies being able to protect their interests. But I have yet to hear a convincing argument that the breed is a determining factor as to whether a dog will be a liability.”

            That argument, according to Carolyn Gorman, vice president of the Washington D. C. based Insurance Information Institute, a trade association representing the insurance industry, is the history of severe losses companies have experienced with specific breeds. According to the Insurance Institute, in 2005 dog bites cost insurers $317.2 million, and 15 per cent of liability claim dollars paid under homeowners policies.

            “Insurance companies have to balance making a profit and being responsible to their bottom lines to being responsible to the public and doing what is reasonable for most of their insurers to keep the premium costs as low as possible,” she explains. “Dog bites are a significant issue, and it seems certain breeds are most often responsible.”

            “While certainly an individual company may have it’s own experience with a certain breed, it doesn’t truly speak to what most pit bull-type dogs, Rottweilers or Dobermans are like,” says Dr. Gail Golab, associate director of Animal Welfare at the Schaumburg, IL based American Veterinary Medical Association.

            Campbell says he knows senior citizens who have had their homeowner’s coverage pulled out from under them    just because they have a targeted breed. “The dogs themselves are older with absolutely no history of being a threat,” he says. “This is ridiculous and something has to be done.”

 
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