Are some dogs more dangerous? Md. urged to shed ‘outdated stereotypes’

This content was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

Companies would not be allowed to charge higher homeowners or renters insurance premiums for families who own certain breeds of dogs if a bill being considered by the Maryland General Assembly becomes law.

The measure would benefit people who own Rottweilers, pit bulls and other animals with reputations — unfounded in the view of many — for being more of a public safety threat than other breeds.

Senate Bill 647 is supported by animal-welfare organizations. Representatives of several of the companies that underwrite insurance policies in Maryland oppose the legislation.

It was introduced by Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County).

“This legislation would require an insurer to either cover losses by all dog breeds or exclude coverage altogether,” Klausmeier said in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee, on which she sits. She said many homeowners and renters aren’t aware that their policy includes an exclusion for certain breeds.

“Eliminating the exclusion altogether will simplify coverage and ensure that policyholders and victims are covered in case there is a dog bite,” she said.

Nancy Egan, state government relations counsel for the American Property Casualty Insurers Association, told lawmakers that U.S. insurers paid out nearly $700 million in dog-bite claims in 2017.

“Insurance companies should be able to look at their business losses and be able to exclude those risks that they see are not profitable for them,” she told the panel.

“Insurance companies are in the market to discriminate,” Sen. Edward R. Reilly (R-Anne Arundel) told his colleagues. “They measure their risk. They define their terms. If it’s legal, the insurance commissioner allows it.”

But advocates for pet owners said insurance companies should base their rate structure on actual risk, not “outdated breed stereotypes.”

“Insurance companies should identify individual dogs that have a history that may predict their likelihood of being dangerous in the future,” said Emily Hovermale, director of the Maryland/Delaware chapter of the Humane Society of America.

“If the dog has a history of biting, that dog can be excluded,” said Lisa G. Radov, president of Maryland Votes for Animals Inc.

“There’s been no evidence ever presented to this General Assembly that one breed is more dangerous than the other,” said Bruce M. Plaxen, an attorney based in Columbia who said he handles a lot of dog-bite cases. “[All people] ought to be able to get insurance for their dogs.”

Lee Greenwood, legislative attorney for Best Friends Animal Society, disputed a lawmaker’s claim that three-fourths of all dog-bite cases involve one or two breeds.

“Their way of tallying that information is based on Google hits,” Greenwood said.

He said the problem with such claims is they’re based on “visual breed identification” — nonexperts essentially guessing what breed a dog is based on its appearance — which he called “an inherently flawed process.”

Several witnesses told the committee there are many insurance companies currently writing policies in Maryland that cover all dogs, regardless of breed.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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