Policies on other breeds subsidize pit bull owners
BLOOMINGTON, Illinois––State Farm, both the leading U.S. property-and-casualty insurance company and among the few that cover pit bulls, paid out a record $132 million in 2017 to settle dog attack claims.
State Farm released this information in a prepared statement recognizing Dog Bite Prevention Week 2018, April 8-14.
The State Farm payout appears to have been nearly twice as much as if State Farm used breed-specific actuarial data on dog attack injuries to exclude covering pit bulls and Rottweilers.
Premiums paid to State Farm by owners of other breeds accordingly subsidize owners of the most dangerous breeds.
$1 billion in payouts since 2008
Altogether, State Farm “has paid over $1 billion for dog-related injury claims” since 2008, the statement said.
As “one of the few insurance companies that does not exclude homeowner or renter insurance coverage because of the breed of dog owned,” the State Farm media release explained, the company “works with world renowned dog trainer Victoria Stilwell,” a longtime high-profile pit bull advocate, “to focus on educating people about responsible pet ownership and understanding dog body language.”
But the State Farm numbers indicate that the Stilwell strategy is not working.
Payouts up $10 million in 2017
“While the total number of dog-related injury claims paid by State Farm decreased by 42 claims (1.15%) between 2016 and 2017,” the company said, “the total amount paid increased by more than $10 million (8.7%).”
State Farm is the leading property-and-casualty insurance company in the U.S., holding market share of 10.2%, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
But according to State Farm and Insurance Information Institute data, State Farm in 2017 made 18.9% of all the dog attack payouts for the entire insurance industry.
State Farm, in other words, made payouts at nearly double the rate of the property-and-casualty insurance industry as a whole.
Other firms covering high-risk dogs also pay out more
At that, the State Farm share of the total insurance industry payout decreased from 20% in 2016, having apparently peaked at 23.8% in 2013.
The difference, as evidenced by the steadily climbing payout amounts over the past five years, is not that the pit bulls, Rottweilers, and other high-risk dogs that State Farm insures are becoming any safer.
Rather, the other companies willing to insure high-risk breeds are also having to make more and higher payouts for attacks by pit bulls, Rottweilers, and dogs of several other closely related but relatively scarce breeds, each of which pose more than twice the actuarial risk of all other breeds combined and more than 10 times the actuarial risk of the average dog.
Dog-related injuries are a third of liability claims
Owners of safe breeds who insure with State Farm and the other companies covering pit bulls, in particular, are paying correspondingly higher premiums, if all other factors are equal, than they would if insuring with one of at least 13 major U.S. insurance groups that do not cover pit bulls.
Overall, “Dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one third of all homeowners liability claim dollars paid out in 2017, costing almost $700 million,” the Insurance Information Institute said.
“The number of dog bite claims nationwide increased to 18,522 in 2017, compared to 18,122 in 2016 – a 2.2% increase,” the Insurance Information Institute continued.
“The average cost per claim increased by 11.5%. The average cost paid out for dog bite claims was $37,051 in 2017,” a jump of nearly $4,000, “compared with $33,230 in 2016.”
“Could be an increase in severity of injuries”
Acknowledged Insurance Information Institute chief communications officer Kristin Palmer, “The increase in the 2017 average cost per claim could be attributed to an increase in severity of injuries.”
Of note, however, is that adjudicating insurance payouts in fatal and disfiguring dog attack cases that go to court typically takes several years. Many of the highest payouts for dog attacks made by U.S. insurers in 2017 therefore came in response to attacks occurring earlier.
Nonfatal disfiguring attacks logged by ANIMALS 24-7 were closely comparable in 2016 and 2017, at about 745 in each year. These were the most severely injurious 4% of the cases bringing insurance payouts.
But the 2017 payout amount may reflect that 2016 brought a dip in U.S. dog attack fatalities to just 36, including 28 inflicted by pit bulls, each the lowest total since 2011.
Justice delayed & justice denied
In other words, even though the total payout in dog attack cases increased in 2017, the rate of increase may have been much lower than if the payout reflected that the number of fatal dog attacks rebounded in 2017 to 57 total deaths, 39 by pit bulls.
Many and perhaps most of the fatal attacks occurring in 2017 resulted in criminal prosecutions and lawsuits that are still before the courts.
Brian Keith Graden, 43, and Melody Ann Graden, 45, for example, whose five pit bulls killed Emily Mae Colvin, 24, on December 7, 2017, were only arrested and charged with criminally negligent homicide on April 4, 2018.
Usually civil lawsuits resulting from a dog attack are not filed until criminal culpability has been established. Therefore, the full insured cost of the 2017 surge in dog attack fatalities will probably not be known for another several years.
$5 million award in 2018 for 2012 death
Indicative of the length of time settling a dog attack claim can take, a jury in Victoria, Texas on March 26, 2018 awarded $5 million damages to the family of Kylar Johnson, age 4.
Wandering from his home on the evening of March 25, 2012, Kylar Johnson was found dead the next morning, after an intensive overnight search, “in the unfenced backyard of a neighbor,” summarized a Carlson Law Firm media release.“Investigators at the scene said the boy was mauled by one of the 10 pit bulls” kept by neighbor Manuel ‘Manny’ Garcia, the Carlson Law Firm release recounted. “The dogs were tethered on 10-foot chains.”
Negligent homicide charge dropped
Kylar Johnson’s father, Michael Cole Johnson, was charged with criminal negligent homicide for allowing the victim to roam unobserved. The charge was dropped, however, in 2016 as part of a plea bargain that also settled several unrelated drug-related charges originating in 2014, plus a charge of hindering Victoria County Sheriff’s deputies from apprehending his brother, Matthew Johnson, in a separate case that also originated years after Kylar Johnson’s death.
Michael Cole Johnson was sentenced to serve 10 years of deferred adjudication probation, pay a $500 fine, and complete 150 hours of community service.“The damages awarded for the fatal mauling,” from pit bull owner Garcia, “are out of the norm for dog bite cases in Texas, where compensation in dog attack cases averages around $30,000,” the Carlson Law Firm said.
Victims often cannot collect judgments
But the $5 million jury award followed many other seven-figure awards in fatal and disfiguring dog attack cases which the victims have been unable to collect either from uninsured dog owners or from insurance companies which have successfully contended that the dog owners voided coverage by violating the terms of their policies.
Such cases, if added to the actual payouts reported in Dog Bite Prevention Week literature, would send the already soaring cost of dog attacks significantly higher.
Won $100 million––on paper only
Wayne County, Michigan circuit judge Daphne Means Curtis marked Dog Bite Prevention Week 2015, for example, by awarding $100 million to pit bull attack victim Steven Constantine, 50.
The $100 million award remains the second highest on record for a dog attack, nearly triple the $37 million award issued in January 2015 to pit bull attack victim Erin Ingram by DeKalb County senior judge Matthew Robins, of Decatur, Georgia.
But neither Constantine nor Ingram are likely to ever be paid even in significant part, since the principal defendants in each case lacked insurance and lacked other assets sufficient to satisfy much more than the victims’ legal fees.
Texas record award went unpaid
Representing bereaved mother Serena Clinton, retired Tyler district judge Cynthia Stevens Kent in September 2010 won the Texas record jury award in a dog attack case of $7 million against pit bull owners Rick and Christi George of Leveritt’s Chapel in Rusk County.
The jury found that the Georges had negligently allowed their two pit bulls to escape and kill skateboarder Justin Clinton, 10, on June 15, 2009.
However, Kent wrote in a November 11, 2010 open letter to Texas legislators, unsuccessfully seeking a statewide ban on pit bulls, “The owners had no home owner’s insurance and our client will likely never see a dime.”
Second-highest Texas award also went unpaid
Attacked by two pit bulls while walking to work in November 2015, Joseph Mooring of Bryan, Texas on January 27, 2017 won the second-highest award in a Texas dog attack case: $5.1 million for permanent nerve damage to his right leg and forearm, levied not by a jury but by 85th District Court Judge Kyle Hawthorne.
Again, however, “The likelihood of Mooring collecting the money is slim, as it’s not clear if there are any assets or insurance to satisfy the judgment,” reported Caitlin Clark of the Bryan-College Station Eagle.
Dog Bite Prevention Week sponsored by pit-pushers
Dog Bite Prevention Week 2018 is co-sponsored by the American Humane Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the U.S. Postal Service, and the Victoria Stilwell Foundation.
All but the U.S. Postal Service have long histories of active pit bull advocacy. American Humane, for instance, while advising “acquiring dogs of breeds noted for their gentleness,” in 1935 enlisted actress Dolores Del Rio––dressed as a nurse––to help promote pit bulls.
Dog Bite Prevention Week originated in 1956, after then-U.S. Postmaster Arthur E. Summerfield noted that 6,000 mail carriers had been bitten on the job the year before.
This was 755 fewer mail carriers than were bitten in 2016, even though there are now only 75,000 mail carriers nationwide, down from 300,000 in 1955, and even though today’s mail carriers walk on average less than five miles a day, compared to eight miles a day for those working in 1955.
“Educate & train”
Summerfield in June 1956 convened a conference in Washington D.C. to introduce the notion of preventing dog bites. The chief executives of the American Humane Association, American SPCA, American Kennel Club, and Popular Dogs magazine were invited to share their ideas.
“The conference developed two major thoughts,” summarized the National Humane Review, the monthly periodical of the American Humane Association. “One, educate the owners to their responsibilities and encourage them to have more obedient dogs and, two, to give safety training to letter carriers on how to behave with strange dogs.”
These are still the focus of Dog Bite Prevention Week literature, but the approach has been eminently unsuccessful.
Then & now
Of the 32 million dogs in the U.S. circa 1955, according to National Family Opinion survey cofounders Howard and Clara Trumbull, who published their findings as “John Marbanks,” about 30% were street dogs, who lived much as many dogs still do in the developing world.
Under 1% of all dogs in the U.S. were sterilized, as of 1960, when sterilization frequency first was studied.
In consequence, about 90% of the dogs in the U.S. were mongrels, and about six million surplus puppies per year were among the eight million dogs per year killed by animal shelters.
Current Dog Bite Prevention week advice is dead wrong
By far the most bites were inflicted by bitches defending litters. But because the most widely practiced method of dog population control was drowning female puppies at birth, the dog gender balance had skewed as far as eight males to one female, the Trumbulls found in 1937.
Of the dogs who had homes in the mid-20th century, half or more were allowed to wander. Tethering, now known to make dogs more territorial and dangerous, was the chief means of confinement.
According to the conventional theories espoused in Dog Bite Prevention Week literature over the past several decades, an overwhelming free-roaming, unneutered, mostly male dog population, tethered if confined at all, should have been magnitudes of order more dangerous than the dog population of today.
Yet the U.S. from 1930 to 1960 had less than a seventh as many reported dog bites, about 600,000 at peak compared to circa 4.5 million a year now, and had just 16 known non-rabid dog attack fatalities in those 30 years, fewer than in any one year since 2005.
Nine of the 16 non-rabid fatalities in the 1930-1960 time frame were inflicted by pit bulls, two by Dobermans, and the rest by unidentified mutts.
During the 1930-1960 time frame the total U.S. pit bull population was under 60,000, dogfighters estimated. Hardly anyone else had a pit bull.
Fewer than 600 Rottweilers were registered with the American Kennel Club. Even German shepherds and huskies, who inflict fatalities and disfigurements at less than 10% of the rate of pit bulls and Rottweilers, made up barely 1% of the U.S. dog population.
Keeping dangerous dogs was, in short, not in vogue.
11% of the dogs cause 77% of deaths, 88% of disfigurements
Today there are 3.7 million pit bulls in the U.S., who have killed more than 400 Americans since 1982 (57% of the total); 2.5 million dogs of other “bully” breeds, who have killed more than 160 Americans; and as many as 1.3 million Rottweilers and Rottweiler mixes, who have killed more than 100 Americans.
Together, dogs of these breeds amount to 11% of the U.S. dog population, but account for 77% of the dog attack deaths and 88% of the disfigurements.
Dog Bite Prevention Week, in short, is not really protecting anyone but the breeders and owners of the most dangerous dogs, while perpetuating the myth that “any dog” can do what only dogs of a few closely related breeds do with tedious frequency.