Pet Insurance: Should You Admit Liability?

An interesting piece from The Guardian newspaper highlights the dangers of admitting liability on pet insurance claims. When a dog attacks a human, it is easy to point the finger and blame the dog (or the human). But when dogs play-fight and one gets hurt; who do we point the paw at? And more importantly…who has to pay the price?

Pet Insurance: Should You Admit Liability?

Rob Maunder, 49 from Hertfordshire had to pay the price when he claimed under his pet insurance policy’s third-party liability cover for a incident that happened with his dog Max, a Newfoundland.

Maunder recalls: ”I was in the park on the Sunday between last Christmas and New Year, and Max was running around with a group of other dogs and having great fun. All of a sudden there was a yelp and one of them, a greyhound, sped off towards the car park.”

The Guardian reports how 1/2 an hour later the Greyhound’s owner returned with the accusation that Max had bit his dog whilst playing.

“He told me the greyhound was at the local vet awaiting £1,000 of surgery for a gaping wound, which the vet would only carry out if payment was made up front. I knew it must have been Max, even though he is a gentle creature, because he was the biggest dog there. My only thought was that I was responsible and I must pay to stop the dog suffering. I knew I had third-party liability cover on my insurance with Petplan, a company I’ve used for about 15 years for various dogs, and felt sure it would cover the cost. I rang Petplan the next day, because it wasn’t open on the Sunday, and told them what happened. They asked me to complete and send in a claim form, which I did a couple of weeks later. I knew I would have to pay an excess of £250 but I was sure the rest would be covered.”

Petplan rejected his claim on the basis that because Rob didn’t see Max bite the Greyhound, then he wasn’t liable.

He said: ”I knew it must have been Max because he was the only one fast enough to keep up with a greyhound.”

He sent several letters of complaint over the next few months and each claim was rejected. He finally complained to Financial Ombudsman Service and Petplan then decided to accept his claim.

The Guardian reports how the company (Petplan) agreed to pay the claim in full, but stresses anyone finding themselves in a similar position should consult their insurer before admitting culpability and paying up.

Alison Andrew, Petplan Marketing Manager said: “While we do not believe the customer was legally liable for this incident we accept he was acting in good faith by trying to help the injured dog, and that’s why we have decided to pay his claim. For a third-party claim it is important customers speak to us before taking any action, to see if they are legally liable. It’s the same as having a car accident: always consult your insurer before accepting responsibility.”

Maunder has continued to get Max covered by Petplan and said of their policy: “It’s more expensive than many others because it offers lifetime cover among other things, and I pay about £38 a month. I picked it because I didn’t want to have to worry about anything that might happen with my dog, whether illness or an accident.”

The newspaper reports that ‘Third-party liability cover of, typically, between £1m and £2m is included as standard under any pet policy or bought as an optional extra, and covers the cost of legal action or compensation claims arising from a pet injuring a person or other animal, damaging property or causing an accident. The cover excludes incidents involving an owner’s family or anyone working for them.’

Dangerous Dogs Act

Certain breeds of dog are exempt from insurance policies. These are dogs registered under The Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 and 1997. Owning a Pitbull, Dogo Argentino, Perro de Presa Canario, Japanese Tosa or Fila Brasileiro can land you a £5,000 fine and/or 6 months in prison. The courts decide if the dog is safe, and if deemed so must be microchipped, neutered and muzzled when in a public place.

Specialist legal adviser Dog Law, Trevor Cooper said: “To lawfully possess a pit bull-type dog. it has to be on the index of exempted dogs and the index arranges third-party insurance, which the owner has to pay for. There is no other way of getting this insurance. As to vet fees insurance, I doubt any insurer would cover a pit bull-type dog, as they are usually excluded. The same exclusion would probably apply to general household insurance.”

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