Questions surround Lynn's new dog policy
By Robin Kaminski / The Daily Item
LYNN - On the heels of the City Council's amendment requiring owners of vicious dogs and landlords who house them to take out a precautionary $250,000 insurance rider, the question remains whether dog owners or landlords would even be able to obtain the extra coverage.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dogs bite more than 4.7 million people each year, resulting in an estimated 800,000 injuries that require medical attention.
Because of that, most insurance companies have blacklisted certain breeds of dogs from coverage, including Pit Bulls, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Rottweilers, Dobermans and German Shepherds.
Ward 1 City Councilor Wayne Lozzi proposed the amendment after a Lynn schoolteacher was brutally attacked by a pit bull while jogging last year.
Under the amendment, the city must be listed as a co-insurer on the policy so officials can be made aware if it is canceled. A fine of $300 for each offense will also be implemented.
"This amendment is not for the dogs that bite, because the city can put those dogs down," Lozzi said. "This is a more proactive step for the dogs that could be vicious and bite. That's the net of the provision and the purpose of the extra coverage."
Three things must happen before a specific dog is deemed vicious.
First, a complaint must be filed against the specific dog. Then Animal Control Officer Kevin Farnsworth must rule that the dog is vicious. Finally, a hearing is held at the Lynn Police Department to ultimately determine the dog's status.
"Then it's the owner's burden to carry the additional coverage for $250,000," Lozzi said. "If they fail to do that, then the city can take the next step by either putting the dog down or banning it from the city...even if it hasn't bitten anybody."
Insuring specific breeds may be a tall order to begin with, but Lozzi said it is a proactive way of addressing a potentially deadly situation.
David Zeller of Zeller Insurance at 370 Lynnway, said any client can take out a policy for their dog, no matter what the breed. But if the dog has a history of biting or is deemed vicious, they would flat out be denied a policy.
"Generally speaking, almost no insurance company would insure after the fact, and there is no way that a vicious dog would get a policy," he said. "It has to do with professional integrity. We're about to celebrate our 30th anniversary and we didn't get that far by not telling the truth."
Although most insurance companies insure homeowners and tenants with dogs and include other animals in the policy, Zeller said the insurance company might either suggest that the owner find the dog a new home, charge a higher premium, not renew the insurance policy, or exclude the dog completely from coverage if the dog bites someone.
"If it's just a dog that hasn't been deemed vicious, you can get a policy through Mass Property Insurance," he said. "But once you get a policy for a dog with say one bite, and then it bites again, say, a little girl's face, it would come back to the insurance company and be their responsibility too."
While homeowners and renters insurance policies typically cover dog bite liability with between $100,000 to $300,000 in coverage, the dog owner would most likely be responsible for all damages above that amount, including legal expenses, if the claim exceeds the limit.
The amendment takes effect next month.
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