Written by Greg Pennings
Clinton Branch Manager
Zehr Insurance Brokers Ltd.
Did you know that aside from natural disasters, the three areas of concern for insurance companies are dogs, pools and trampolines?
Today, let’s talk about dogs. (It’s a little early to be thinking about swimming pools anyways.)
What would you guess is the total number of reported dog bites in Canada each year? The answer may surprise you – over 500,000!
Our dogs not only bring us joy, but science has shown that they our canine companions help with stress and anxiety. For children living in a home with a dog, the benefits include increased responsibility and compassion, a sense of security and pride, and even positives impacts to the immune system! Like many great things however, there are still potential risks to living with a dog in the home.
A study published in the Journal of Pediatrics finds dog related emergency room visits have increased nearly 300 per cent following the start of stay-at home orders in March 2020.
There are many reasons for the increased number of dog bites during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these factors are that dogs are under greater stress because of increased child presence, or there may be a decrease in adult supervision of the dog and child(ren) interacting.
Pet ownership has increased in the last year, giving us the term “pandemic puppy”. More than one-third of Canadian households now have dogs and, dog sales have increased by five percent in 2020 alone.
Before you go out and pick your perfect pooch, it’s important to know how your pets factor into your home insurance policy.
When dog owners hear “insurance” related to their pup, they are typically thinking about pet health insurance. But what if your dog causes damage or injury to something or someone else?
This is where your homeowner’s insurance policy comes into effect. Your homeowner’s policy will offer liability protection for those situations that seem too unimaginable to happen – until they happen. Those one in a million events like when your pre-schooler “helps” paint the neighbour’s new car, when the meter-reader is injured by a gopher hole in your yard (that literally appeared overnight), or when your dog bites someone.
A dog is legally considered to be your property and can come with a fair amount of liability exposure. In Ontario, it’s all spelled out in the Ontario’s Dog Owners Liability Act.
The Ontario Dog Owners Liability Act states that as the dog owner, you are “strictly responsible” for all acts of your dog, even if your unaware of an incident or tried to prevent the incident from occurring at the time.
If your dog injures someone, the injured party may be eligible to collect compensation for:
- Medical bills
- Pain and suffering
- Loss of income
- Property damage
Consider Moretto v Nicolini-Femia, 2017 ONSC 3945 (CanLII) where the plaintiff was bitten by the defendant’s dog and sustained injuries to her cheek and a permanent facial scar causing significant emotional and social impacts on her life in that she became insecure about her appearance and had a lowered self-esteem. She was awarded $40,000 in general damages for physical injury, $5,000 in general damages for psychological injury, and $12,500 for future costs care that included laser treatments and sunscreen.
This liability exposure makes it vitally important to advise your insurance broker or company of the fact that you own a dog. You may want to take a closer look at your liability coverage limits to understand what is exactly covered in your policy. You may also want to consider increased policy limits to cover legal costs if your dog does bite someone.
When you’re picking that perfect puppy, giving that rescued pooch the second change they deserve, or even bringing a trained support dog into your family, there is always the debate about which breeds to get and which to avoid. Some may be considered too aggressive for certain insurance companies, so it is always important to double check your policy or call your broker and have a conversation to see if they would be properly covered or not. Some breeds that not all insurance companies will cover are:
- Pit Bulls
- Staffordshire Terriers
- German Shepherds.
If your dog bites someone or damages their property, you should report it to your broker or your home insurance company right away — even if you’re not sure whether or not you’ll even need to make a claim. Sometimes with a dog bite, you may not know until a little while later that you’re going to need help from your insurer. For example: if the person whom your dog bites says not to worry about it, but later needs to seek medical treatment, you may end up having to submit a claim. It’s always a good idea to make sure your insurance company knows about a potential claim as soon as the related incident happens. The more they know, the better they can be prepared to help.
If you want to make sure your family pup is properly covered, or even to make sure your insurer knows about your dog, give your broker a call anytime – we’re always happy to help (and getting to see pictures of puppies never hurts).