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Farmers Will No Longer Pay Certain Dog Bite Claims in California

The insurance company Farmers Group, Inc., recently notified its homeowners policyholders that it will no longer pay on dog bite injury claims involving pit bulls, Rottweilers or wolf hybrids. The move, which will go into effect upon the next renewal of the policy, was made in response to an internal review the company performed of its liability claims. According to a spokesperson for Farmers, these three breeds of dog accounted for over 25 percent of all the dog bite injury claims the company pays out. Furthermore, the same three breeds were also responsible for more damage per bite, on average, than other breeds.

The practice by insurance companies of blacklisting certain dog breeds isn't new, but it continues to be controversial. Several insurers across the U.S. are considering blacklists in order to limit their payouts. Other companies have raised the cost of coverage for owners of unpopular dog breeds, and some have refused to cover more than one dog bite injury claim per dog.

However, Pennsylvania and Michigan have passed laws prohibiting breed blacklisting. Why? According to a number of legal, veterinary and dog training advocates, that there is simply no scientific evidence to support certain dog breeds are more dangerous than others.

"Dog bite statistics are not really statistics, and they do not give an accurate picture of dogs that bite," concluded a report by a task force set up to consider the issue by the American Veterinary Medical Association. "The popular notion that Pit Bulls and Rottweilers are inherently more likely to bite is simply not supported by the available statistics."

Locally, a dog trainer for "Pit Boss," an Animal Planet show involving pit bulls, is outraged by Farmers' decision.

"It is offensive," she told the LA Times. "They are condemning these breeds indiscriminately without giving the home owners a chance to prove their dogs are not vicious."

In 2004, a law professor from Texas Tech published a systematic review of breed-specific dog bite injury studies. When insurance companies' actuarial studies like the one by Farmers show certain breeds are responsible for a disproportionate number of bites, he concludes, it's simply because those breeds are more popular.

Furthermore, the breeds chosen for blacklisting change over time, and insurance companies are now going after half-breeds in some cases.

Yes, dog bite injury claims are expensive to cover. That's because dog bites serious enough to bring about an insurance claim are often very serious indeed. For dog bite victims in California, the most important thing about Farmers' decision is that it could keep them from being fully compensated for their injuries.

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