MUNCIE (AP) — Brad Reinke opened a letter last month from an insurance underwriting specialist and learned he had seven months to find a new home for his family’s pit bulls or lose his home insurance.
“Due to a potential liability hazard, the aggressive dog should be removed from the premises,” the letter from Shelter Insurance Companies read. “No aggressive dog or aggressive breed of dog should replace this dog.”
Such ultimatums are not uncommon for home owners who have what insurance companies deem “dangerous dog” breeds.
Dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims paid out in 2012, costing more than $489 million, according to the Insurance Information Institute (III). There were 16,459 dog bite claims last year. The average cost of settling those claims was $29,752.
Reinke believes his insurance agency jumped to conclusions about his pit bull, however, based on what an underwriter saw through a window and what she heard: barking.
“We’ve been here for five of the seven years that we’ve had this company insure our house,” Reinke, a highway technician at the Indiana Department of Transportation, told The Star Press. “I don’t see how they can say they’re aggressive when they’ve never met the dogs. This is pretty much discriminating against the breed, pretty much stereotyping the breed through the window.”
Insurance agency officials don’t disagree there is a bias, but say that’s based on past experience.
When Reinke’s mother, Jana, a co-signer on her son’s mortgage, visited Shelter Insurance agent Joshua Aber in Muncie, she accused him of being discriminatory toward pit bulls. “Yes, I am,” she quoted him as saying. “That’s exactly what he said.”
Aber told The Star Press that excluding aggressive breeds of dogs from homeowners’ coverage is common in the insurance industry and has been for decades.