Top non-breed-specific insurer pays record sum to settle dog bite claims in 2011

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  June 2012:

Top non-breed-specific insurer pays record sum to settle dog bite claims in 2011

LOS ANGELES–State Farm Insurance,  believed to be the largest U.S. home insurer that does not enforce breed-specific restrictions on what dogs it will cover,  in 2011 paid 9% more dog bite claims than in 2010,  and paid out 21% more money to settle the claims,  spokesperson Eddie Martinez told media on May 16,  2012.

State Farm in 2011 paid out $109 million to settle 3,800 dog bite claims nationwide,  up from $90 million paid out in 2010 to settle about 3,500 dog bite claims,  Martinez disclosed.  The Insurance Information Institute estimated that all U.S. home insurers combined paid out nearly $479 million to settle dog bite claims in 2011,  spokesperson Loretta Worters told Sue Manning of Associated Press–a 16% increase from $413 million in 2010.
“California,  home to more dogs and people than any other state,  led the way in 2011,”  Manning wrote.  State Farm settled 527 dog attack claims from California in 2011.  Calfiornia victims received $20.3 million,  for an average payout of $38,520–an increase of 31% from 2010.

Wrote Manning,  “State Farm is still working to determine reasons for the spike, Martinez said.”

State Farm 2010 data showed that the average payout for 369 claims in California and for 217 claims in Illinois was virtually identical,  at $30,623 and $30,599,  respectively,  but in Ohio, where state law until May 22,  2012 defined pit bulls as “inherently vicious” and required pit bull keepers to take special precautions to contain them,  the average payout was $26,511–14% lower.
The Ohio law was repealed in February 2012,  with a 90-day phase-in period,  after a multi-year campaign by the Toledo Blade and the Best Friends Animal Society.
Overall,  the Insurance Information Institute reported in October 2011,   dog attack payouts have trended upward for at least a decade.
Insurance companies with breed-specific restrictions include Allstate,  Liberty Mutual,  Nationwide,  Pemco,  and Safeco.  Some will insure dogs of breeds in high actuarily risk categories,  but only under specific conditions.
“Owners of pit bulls,  including Staffordshire terriers, Dobermans,  Rottweilers,  chows,  Presa Canarios,  Akitas,  huskies and wolf hybrids cannot get homeowners,  condo and renters policies through Castle Key,  the subsidiary of Allstate that writes such policies in Florida,”  Palm Beach Post staff writer Laura Green learned in 2010.  “United Property & Casualty Insurance excludes the same dogs as Castle Key,  plus German shepherds,  American Eskimos, or any mixed breed that is half or more of any of the banned breeds. State Farm,”  however,  “ignores breed and focuses on a survey that dog owners must fill out before they are approved.  The form asks whether their dog has a history of bites,  and if so what measures the owner has taken,  such as obedience classes or a fence,  to prevent the animal from attacking again.”

The 2011 State Farm update on dog bite payouts preceded by 10 days a $643,257 jury award to pit bull attack victim Vicki Bentley, 55,  of Santa Rosa County,  Florida.
On March 14,  2008,”  recounted Lindsay Reubens of the Pensacola News Journal,   “Bentley was visiting a sister-in-law who lived with an unrelated family in Milton.  The only way to enter the house was to go through the gate in the fence surrounding the front yard.  Bentley knew there were dachshunds at the house, but she wasn’t aware that a pit bull was a new addition,”  her attorney Timothy O’Brien said.
Continued Reubens,  “The crux of the court case came down to whether there was a sign that warned people about the dog when the attack happened,  O’Brien said.  The dog’s owner,  Gregory Zane Gray, 30,  and homeowner George Wetherbee Jr. said the sign had always been visible.  But the neighbor who helped Bentley escape from the dog said Gray posted the sign after the dog attacked.”
The pit bull keepers later had the pit bull killed for injuring one of the dachshunds,  O’Brien told Reubens.
“We’re looking into our post-trial appeal options,”  said Jacksonville attorney Kristen Van der Linde,  representing the defendants.

Only three years ago the award to Bentley would have been a record in a nonfatal dog attack in which an award or settlement payout was reported,  but Rottweiler attack plaintiffs Evelyn and Larry Shickram in March 2010 accepted a $1.6 million settlement offer from Boss Pet Products,  after earlier accepting $300,000 from the dog’s keeper,  Pamela Leader.  This was reportedly the limit of Leader’s homeowners’ insurance.  The Shickrams sued Boss Pet Products,  the distributor of a tether which had failed to hold the Rottweiler;  the seller PetSmart;  and the maker,  Shanghai Kington Trading Co.
Evelyn Schickram suffered permanent injuries to both arms, including chronic pain and loss of ability to lift heavy objects, but was not facially disfigured.  The highest previous known dog bite liability awards involved facial disfigurement.
The total award in the Schickram case was exceeded in August 2011 when a jury in Pierce County,  Washington,  awarded $2.2 million to pit bull terrier attack victim Sue Gorman,  63,  of Gig Harbor. Holding pit bull keepers Shellie Wilson and her son Zachary Martin to be 52% responsible for Gorman’s injuries and losses,  the jury also directed Pierce County to pay damages of $924,000 for alleged negligence in responding to 14 previous complaints about the two pit bulls.   Late on the night of August 21,  2007 the two pit bulls burst through an open sliding glass door to maul Gorman’s service dog and kill a Jack Russell terrier whom Gorman was keeping for a friend. Gorman was injured when she tried to intervene.

The highest known previous award for a nonfatal dog attack in Washington state was $157,000,  to a man who was mauled by a Rottweiler while walking his poodle near their home on the Kitsap Peninsula.

The highest known jury award in a fatal dog attack case was $7 million against against Rick and Christi George of Leveritt’s Chapel in Rusk County,  Texas,  for allowing their two pit bulls to escape and kill skateboarder Justin Clinton,  10,  on June 15,  2009. However,  plaintiff’s attorney Cynthia Stevens Kent wrote in a November 11,  2010 open letter to Texas legislators,  “The owners had no home owner’s insurance and our client will likely never see a dime,  even toward Justin’s funeral expenses.”

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