F.I.D.O. Brings Dog Bite Liability Coverage to Florida; More States Coming

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by Amy O'Connor

When commercial lines agent and dog owner Debbie Turner began to look into help for her difficult dog back in 2000, she had no idea that her journey would end up leading to a new personal lines insurance option.

Now, she believes her new Covered Canine policy could take a bite out of the dog liability insurance marketplace.

Turner, who is president of Dean Insurance Agency in Altamont Fla., says the story behind the coverage began about 12 years ago when her own dog’s behavior issues led to her becoming, as she describes it, “obsessed with dogs’ behavior and trying to fix them.”

It was through this process she realized there was a gap between what questions insurance companies ask when covering dogs on a homeowners or tenant’s liability policy and what they should really know about the actual dog that is being insured. She said there are also many inconsistencies among carriers over what’s covered, or if any coverage is provided at all.

“My research showed that more and more homeowners policies have taken full animal liability out of homeowners or tenants policies, or they are excluding specific breeds,” Turner says. “It seems to be a trend that homeowners and tenant markets are really moving away from providing coverage for animal liability and dog bites are a huge part of that.”

Turner says a conversation with a colleague about a paper she wanted to write about this issue turned into her instead developing the Covered Canine insurance product and the Federation of Insured Dog Owners, or F.I.D.O.

The organization provides dog bite liability insurance through the Covered Canine insurance policy to all breeds of dogs on Great American Insurance Co. paper. The policy is currently available in Florida only, but Turner says as soon as she completes all the filing requirements for other states, she will make it available nationwide through multiple markets.

The available limits are $50,000, $75,000 or $100,000 and Turner hopes to make them higher once the program is up and running. There is also the option to insure the dog off-premises for situations where the dog is taken out on a leash and attacks someone. The policy does not, however, cover “dog to dog” damages.

Customers can go online and rate the policy themselves based on breed, weight and other factors, including whether there are children living in the house and their ages. Applicants are also required to upload a picture of the dog.

She says there are not many circumstances where coverage would be denied, but those that will be have to do with whether a dog is not well-socialized or has been a police dog.

The goal of the rating criteria, she says, is not to exclude any certain breed of dog, but to focus more on the circumstances of the dog’s living arrangements.

“If you rate a pitbull according to the correct lifestyle – such as a fenced in yard, taken to the vet – you can get a $50,000 policy for under $200. You cannot buy that anywhere else,” she says.

There is a $50 fee to join F.I.D.O., which will eventually operate as a 501 (c)(3) charity with part of the membership fee benefiting animal-related causes. Turner says the legal components of that are still in process.

The coverage is only available through F.I.D.O.’s website because Turner says the policy prices are so low that it was not economically feasible for them to be brokered. However, she says that other agents and brokers can benefit from making their clients aware that there is another option out there.

“Because [animal liability] is being removed so consistently from so many personal lines policies, at some point agents are going to start getting sued because they aren’t telling anyone,” says Turner. “From an E&O standpoint, agents need to be telling insureds ‘it’s not covered, but here is a reasonably priced alternative’.”

Turner, whose agency focuses on malpractice, business and real estate insurance, says she began working on F.I.D.O. last year and just launched the organization in July. No policies have been bound yet but she is hoping to see about 12,000 in the first year.

She says developing F.I.D.O. has been an arduous process because her agency doesn’t focus on personal lines and she didn’t realize at first that this would be a personal lines product. Dealing with the regulatory issues of filing a non-admitted master policy in all states has been difficult, but she says they are being very careful to take all the necessary steps, “We need to make sure we are in compliance to be able to write,” she said.

She plans to donate part of the F.I.D.O. money to causes that help educate people about dog behavior and how they interact with people, a promise that is listed under the mission statement section of the F.I.D.O. site. She thinks this education can be an eye-opener for people and help prevent bad situations for dog owners and their pets.

“All dogs are animals and may bite… people really are very, very naïve about if or when a dog will bite. They don’t get it,” says Turner.

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  • October 18, 2012 at 8:52 pm
    Teresa Dotson says:

    What an excellent idea! I would love to be a F.I.D.O. agent as soon as it comes to GA. Can I purchase this product now, as a GA resident? Please send me more information on this absolutely wonderful product.
    My Best,
    Teresa Dotson

  • October 19, 2012 at 5:38 pm
    retired in paradise says:

    i would not want to be the underwriter in florida for this cover. i have seen and heard of too many dog incidents which are very serious. people here that i have observed and heard about are simply too irresponsible with dangerous breeds.

  • October 19, 2012 at 5:54 pm
    Kay Clugston says:

    I would like to be an agent also as soon as this product comes to Pennsylvania. I think dogs get a bad rap. It is how they are raised and treated by humans.

  • October 19, 2012 at 6:02 pm
    Ann Wolf says:

    Saw this in Insurance Journal and thought it might be a good option for some of your personal lines customers.

  • October 19, 2012 at 6:43 pm
    GETREAL says:

    With sublimits like this, there is going to be an artificial sense of liability security. And even more so if there is an Umbrella policy in the mix.

    • November 1, 2012 at 6:23 pm
      Sharon says:

      Good comment. It will be interesting to see how the umbrella policies will respond being that most are follow form with the homeowners policy.

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  • October 22, 2012 at 5:37 pm
    bruce says:

    Lloyd’s has a canine liability program.$276 for $50k limits. You can endorse off premise liability for about $75. They offer limits up to $300k

  • October 22, 2012 at 5:38 pm
    Joni Fairbrother says:

    Hope this works out.

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  • October 30, 2012 at 7:31 pm
    Debbie Turner says:

    I am the creator of FIDO, I had not thought about the underlying needing to be $300,000 and I am working to not only bring the product to other states but to increase the limit as well. As to appointments since most of the quotes I am seeing are in the $100 to $300 range there just isn’t anything left to split it is written direct. As to dangerous dogs and underwriting, I have spent hundreds of hours researching this issue. The stats are pretty cut and dry as to what might cause a dog to bite. As to a false sense of security my thought would be better to have at least a $100,000 then none at all. It would not pay a big settlement but should cover some or all of the medical costs. Unfortunately it is available only in Florida at this time.

  • October 31, 2012 at 9:20 pm
    Nancy Walker says:

    This is great. Good luck with this Debbie.

  • November 14, 2012 at 1:35 am
    allan langston says:

    @Debbie Turner I belive F.I.D.O is a great ideal! But i do have ? just to be clear, if we do have the F.I.D.O. policy are we thin able to take a policy out with any Ins company and just say NO when they ask if we have a dog since it will not be filed with them?..or is this for people who Have Ins but there [animal liability] has been removed Thanks

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