AR-News: (NYS) NYTimes article on dog insurance bill

Elizabeth Forel elizforel at
Tue Apr 20 07:18:15 EDT 2004

Under Plan, Every Dog Would Have His Insurance

Published: April 18, 2004

Careful New Yorkers probably have insurance to cover the chance
fender-bender, house fire or surprise attack of the chicken pox. Now, if
a Bronx lawmaker has his way, they will have to take out yet another
policy - one for their dogs.
State Assemblyman Peter M. Rivera, a Democrat whose district is in the
Bronx, proposed a new bill last month that, if passed, would require all
dog owners in New York State to have liability insurance for their pets.
The bill, which Mr. Rivera said would probably be ready for debate on the
Assembly floor in a month, is called "Elijah's Law" for a 3-year-old boy,
Elijah Torres, who was seriously injured in an attack by a Rottweiler in
the Bronx last fall. 

The law would circumvent the major sticking point in dog attack cases in
New York City, Mr. Rivera said. Currently, an attack victim can take
legal action only if a dog is documented as "dangerous," a designation
assigned only after the dog has already bitten, he said. 
"There's an old doctrine that says an owner is not liable until a dog is
declared dangerous," Mr. Rivera said. "My legislation would require that
any dog owner has to have insurance."
A summary of the bill offered grim statistics. In 2002, a total of 5,176
dog bites were reported in New York City, it stated darkly. Nationwide,
dogs bite about 7,000 mail carriers a year, it said. (The Postal
Service's Web site noted that the count, taken in 1983, fell by half by
the late 1990's.)
More children, according to the summary, visit emergency rooms for dog
bites than for the total of injuries on playgrounds and from bicycles,
mopeds, all-terrain vehicles, in-line skating, and skateboards combined.
Mr. Rivera said compliance would be affordable, costing between $75 and
$100 annually. Still, it was not clear whether insurance companies would
agree with the figures.
Other questions have been raised. It took years for New York State
drivers to finally surrender to mandatory vehicle insurance in the late
1950's. How long would they drag their heels with their dogs?
In New York City, officials from the city's main animal shelter and the
Department of Health cautioned that laws already require dog owners to
purchase licenses for their pets, as proof that the animal has been
vaccinated, but only about one fifth of all dog owners actually comply.
City residents own about 530,000 dogs, but only about 110,000 are
licensed, according to Department of Health estimates. 
"It's a very anemic licensing program in New York City," said Edward
Boks, executive director of Animal Care and Control, a group the city
employs to run its animal shelters, which take in 45,000 lost cats, dogs
and other animals each year.
Then there is the problem of making sure all dogs are insured. 
"It's wonderful to have these laws, but enforcing them costs money," Mr.
Boks said. "We have a very difficult time enforcing the leash law and the
license law."
Still, Mr. Rivera said, the state should make an attempt.
"It may be a burden, but it's a positive burden."

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