In this podcast, Sue Zdroik, the US Custom Leader for the Northeast, discusses the growing issue of dogbite liability exposure:
- Why we launched the research
- How the findings have affected Sue, as a dog owner and as a reinsurer
Can’t listen now? Read the transcript
How did you get onto this subject?
This dog bite issue started last year in a conversation with a customer in the Midwest that writes homeowner’s policies. They were really struggling with some losses regarding dog bite claims and they were wondering if TransRe had any insights as to how they could mitigate or reduce some of those losses.
And frankly it was a topic I hadn’t thought about. So I said ‘you know what – I’m sure we’ve seen some things. Let’s take a look’. So I started with our claims department and Frank DeMento was fabulous as well as Wesley Sherman. But when we looked up our dog bite claims historically here at TransRe, we didn’t really notice very many trends, mainly because our homeowner’s reinsurance treaties are mainly excess of loss, which means that a lot of the claims could conceivably be beneath the treaty retention.
So we didn’t get much information there but we at least saw a little bit of some of the larger claims trends. Then we surveyed some of our other homeowner’s customers that we have on the treaty side and asked them what they do with dog bite claims, and how they try to mitigate that exposure in homeowner’s and personal umbrella policies. They ask about the presence of dogs in their applications. They also follow up to make sure that there was proper training and education of the policyholders.
As a dog owner, how has this research affected you?
I am much more aware now about dogs and their propensity to bite you. I know a lot of dogs and your first reaction is to go pet this dog. After this research, I thought ‘oh, you know I’m going to just maybe put my hand out there a little bit differently’ or look at the owner who is with that dog and say ‘you know is this OK to pet your dog’. It definitely makes me think differently about how we train our dogs and how we restrain them – whether they are fenced in or tied up, that sort of thing. I also understand more about the science behind what makes dogs act more or less aggressively.
As a reinsurer, what have you learned from this research?
My first lesson did not surprise me. The first response of many insurers is to exclude it ‘we’re going to put a canine liability exclusion on homeowner’s policies as well as personal umbrella policies’. Other insurers might tailor coverage to exclude breeds considered more dangerous such as German Shepherds, Rottweilers et cetera.
I did learn that there are insurance companies that actually write dog bite liability policies, separate from a homeowner’s policy. I didn’t know that. And I think these companies have a really interesting niche market because many homeowner’s carriers simply will not cover pitbulls or Rottweilers. If you have such a dog, and even if you’ve trained it properly, have a good rapport, and you’re pretty comfortable with it, you stiill may not be able to get coverage, so these standalone dog liability policies really fill a customer gap.
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