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2/27/2012 DOG BITES AND HOMEOWNERS LIABILITY
For many years it's been said that 1/3 of all homeowners liability claims are derived as a result of dog bites.... here's an updated article:
By Tim Grant, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Homeowners might want to think twice before bringing a dog into the house.
Some insurance companies will be less than thrilled to hear about the new pit bull, the Rottweiler puppy or even the energetic Dalmatian because dog bites are on the rise and they cost insurance companies millions of dollars in claims each year.
The Insurance Information Institute in Washington, D.C., reports dog bites accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims paid in 2010, costing nearly $413 million.
In an effort to get a handle on the costs, some companies include "dangerous dog" clauses in their homeowners policies that effectively place certain breeds on a "blacklist," meaning the insurer won't cover a home containing those breeds.
The list of breeds varies by insurer, which is why some will be fine with the Dalmatian or the boxer while others will withhold coverage.
"If a company has had experience over a number of years with a particular dog breed that has cost them money, it's their prerogative not to have to insure something they perceive as a risk," said Loretta Worters, vice president of the Insurance Information Institute.
An analysis by the institute found the average cost of dog bite claims was $24,840 in 2009, up from $24,461 in 2008. The number of claims increased by 4.8 percent to 16,586 in 2009 from 15,823 in 2008, the most recent figures available.
Pennsylvania law recognizes the insurer's right to refuse to write a policy based on concerns over a canine resident.
But homeowners may be relieved to learn that state law does not allow an insurer to terminate an existing policy because of a dog -- unless the dog has bitten someone in the past without provocation.
"Simply getting a dog which is on an underwriter's 'list' would not be a proper reason to terminate coverage," said Rosanne Placey, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania insurance department.
The most commonly rejected breeds are pit bulls, Rottweilers, Doberman pinschers and German shepherds. Borderline breeds are supersized canines, such as the English bull mastiff and Great Dane.
Insurance companies know that not everyone will let them know when a pet joins the family.
"We don't usually get telephone calls from clients saying they've purchased a dog," said Jeff McCarthy, an agent at Harrington Insurance Agency in Woburn, Mass. "Carriers will periodically send a questionnaire asking if the homeowner has a dog."
Even then, pet owners sometimes hold back.
"A lot of people won't disclose it if they know it could be a problem," Mr. McCarthy said. "But if you did purchase a Rottweiler and didn't let us know, and you had an incident, the carrier could deny the claim."
Ms. Worters, at the Insurance Information Institute, suggested it's in the homeowners' interest to think about the potential for problems.
"It's a good idea when you buy a dog to get a policy with higher liability limits," she said. "Any dog can bite if they are frightened or scared. Children have the highest number of injuries from dog bites."
In an incident close to home, a 3-day-old baby boy in McKeesport was mauled to death last week by the family's husky. The dog -- one of four living in the house -- was running loose in the house while the newborn child's father was at work and its mother was upstairs in the bathroom. Police say blood was on the husky's face, and they believe the husky was the attacker.
Ms. Placey said a liability policy would not cover harm to the newborn -- although some medical bills might be covered -- because the child was a resident of the home and the dogs also lived there.
After any incident, she said, dogs are typically deemed "dangerous" by the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, she said. That certification would be sent to the couple's insurance company, which would raise their insurance rates to reflect that they are living with dangerous animals if the dogs return to the home.
Homeowners' and renters' insurance policies typically cover liability for dog bites involving nonresidents of the home.
Most standard homeowners policies provide policyholders with anywhere from $100,000 to $300,000 in liability coverage. If the claim exceeds those limits, the dog owner is personally responsible for damages above that amount, including legal expenses.
"A liability policy also provides medical coverage in the event a dog bites a friend or neighbor," Ms.Placey said. "Homeowners can generally get $1,000 to $5,000 worth of this coverage."
A biting dog could increase homeowner's insurance
Most insurance companies will insure homeowners with dogs, at least until something happens. Once a dog has bitten someone, the company could charge a higher premium, drop the homeowner's policy altogether or exclude the dog from coverage.
Some companies require dog owners to sign waivers for dog bites. Others will cover a pet only if the owner takes the dog to classes aimed at modifying its behavior.
Several insurance companies declined to comment about their pet underwriting guidelines. Pet ownership can be such an emotional issue for people that insurance companies are leery of being singled out for being unwilling to insure homes where certain dog breeds live.
The McDonald's restaurant chain recently suffered backlash from a radio ad that angered pit bull owners. The ad said, "Eating its new Chicken McBites was less risky than petting a stray pit bull ..."
Pit bull advocates said the ad was offensive and promoted stereotypes about the dogs. The ad was promptly pulled by the company.
Still, the reality is that sometimes humans and canines don't mix well.
"A big dog, though unaggressive, may playfully jump on someone and accidentally knock him or her down and cause an injury," Mr. McCarthy said.
"If you have a certificate showing that the dog has gotten obedience training, it may help. The vast majority of dog breeds fall into the no-problem category. Most breeds aren't a problem unless your particular dog has bitten people in the past."
He suggests doing research before bringing a dog into the home.
"If it's a puppy, ask your agent about the breed," Mr. McCarthy said. "If it's a rescue dog, find out of it has a biting history or was abused. It's better to find out sooner instead of perhaps having to give it up after you've become attached to it."
•2/29/2012 AUTO DEALERSHIP PAPERWORK AND DOCUMENT PREPARATION FEES....
ARE THEY LEGAL???
• Next time you purchase a new vehicle and you're charged exorbitant fees for preparation of paperwork, print this out and bring it with you to the dealer! Those fees are not legal
I couldn‘t resist the urge to share this news out of the Office of
Consumer Affairs. It hit the newspapers and local TV stations just before President‘s Day:
Massachusetts car buyers are being charged so-called “documentation preparation“ fees that can range as high as $400 supposedly for processing paperwork and storage of documents, according to a state-wide survey by the Office of Consumer Affairs.
The Office of Consumer Affairs surveyed almost 190 car dealerships across the state asking if these fees were charged, the amount and the reasons for the fees. Almost 70 percent of the dealerships called charged the fees, which ranged from $45 to $399, and the many reasons given for the fees appeared to be very questionable and literally made up by the auto dealerships.
Reasons ranged from a 9/11 security fee to storing documents for eight years at Downtown Crossing to paying insurance agents.
“As consumers gear up for Presidents‘ Day sales, they need to know that in most instances dealerships are hitting them with unnecessary fees claiming they are for paperwork and documents.,“ said Barbara Anthony, Undersecretary of Consumer Aff airs and Business Regulation.
“We found that many car dealerships are charging consumers exorbitant fees for costs that are negligible and in some cases telling car buyers these are required charges by state or federal law, which just isn‘t true.“
The survey of 180 car dealerships across the state found:
• 128 dealerships charged documentation fees
• Fees ranged from $45 to $399
• About 50 dealerships charged between $275 and $300
• New car dealerships were more likely to charge the fees than used car dealerships
• Dealerships gave various reasons for the fees, including “September 11th and Homeland Security“ issues.
Some dealers also claimed the fees were for title or registry purposes. State law requires that title or registry fees must be separately itemized and cannot exceed the cost charged by the registry. The Office of Consumer Affairs will refer some of these car dealerships to the state Attorney General‘s Office for further investigation. Complete survey results can be found at:
Generally, “document preparation“ fees are not revealed until the final stages of a negotiation over the price of an automobile. The Office of Consumer Affairs advises consumers to make these fees part of the negotiation process and to bargain with a dealer to take the fees off the final agreed upon price.
“Car buyers need to look closely at what they are being charged for,“ Anthony said. “And consumers should shop around, especially if a particular dealership tries to hit you with nonnegotiable documentation fees.“
Editors Note: There is a statute that deals with this practice by dealers. It says: “Dealers who procure, or assist purchasers to procure, certificates of title for vehicles sold by them, may charge the purchasers for such services not more than five dollars for each transaction.“ (M.G.L. c. 90D, §33)
Hope this helps you when you're shopping for your next vehicle!
Beginning January 17, 2012, all
Massachusetts residents who are veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces and were honorably discharged can
choose to have a Veteran’s Indicator on their Driver’s License, Learner’s Permit, Massachusetts ID card, or
Liquor ID card. If they choose this, the word “Veteran” will be printed on the lower right corner of their
license/ID card (or the bottom center part of their permit or temporary license/ID card).
The original update received from the RMV indicated that someone who already had a Veteran‘s plate
didn‘t need any documentation to get the Veteran‘s Indicator. Since a surviving spouse is allowed to
keep the Veteran’s Plates but is not eligible for the Veteran’s Indicator, the RMV has announced that all
those who want a Veteran‘s Indicator must provide the RMV with the required documentation (DD-214,
DD-215 or Honorable Discharge from WWII and the Korean War).
The Class D, M, or DM License and ID Card Application (T21042_1111) and the CDL Application
(T21756_1111) have both been revised. A new question has been added asking the customer if he/she
wants the Veteran’s Indicator printed on the license/permit/ID card. A customer who wants the Veteran’s
Indicator on his/her license/permit/ID card must answer “yes” to this question when applying for,
renewing, or ordering a duplicate license/permit/ID card.