April 2002 Magazine
Perhaps this is a crisis particular to NY (the 3rd most litigious state in the nation) residents only, but I fear that this will spread quickly to all states. Let a word to the wise be sufficient, as the saying goes.
If you are moving and need new homeowner's or renter's insurance, or if you have somehow allowed your current policy to lapse, be prepared for some new questions from some insurance agents that may affect you adversely. The underwriters have new criteria that are detrimental to the bird business. They will either not underwrite the policy or they will place you in a high risk category if you have even one cage confined exotic bird. If you sell birds, you may not get insurance. I believe that there are exceptions. i.e. canaries, finches, budgies, etc. It is probably up to the discretion of the agent as to what "exotic bird" means.
This is a broad based policy under the term "exotic dangerous animals". The other question regarding "pets" is whether or not you own a dog and what breed it is. The more dangerous breed of dog that you own, the less likely you are to get insurance. Heck, even a mongrel or little tiny jumping piranha dog can get you good. I can understand the dangerous dog thing since you hear or read about it almost daily in the news. What I have never read or heard about is a dangerous bird bite or a person being consumed by a boa constrictor. Have you?
Be sure to ditch any trampolines before calling for insurance. That was a question that finally elicited a hearty laugh. I guess if you have any kind of dangerous apparatus or animals, you'll at the very least have to pay high premiums. Another preparedness hint might be to have muzzles on hand to show your agent. You might have to make a bunch of teeny weeny bird muzzles now.
I suppose that since the 9/11 attacks, all of the weather-related claims, and the frivolous lawsuits by greedy attorneys and their clients, the insurers need to recoup their "losses" even though these types of claims are subsidized by the government. Expect to see many more exclusions of coverage in homeowner's insurance from here on in, such as acts of terrorism, mold, etc. Small businesses will suffer the most. One insurer (The Hartford) refused to write my policy because they didn't have enough criteria on the web business. Where have they been for the last decade? I'd guess that the insurers must have come out from beneath their rocks on that sunny island after the 9/11 attacks.
The criteria for underwriting policies are computer data based. My question is: how many bird bite liability or medical claims have insurance companies had over the past 2 decades? I personally don't know of one. In trying to track down this data and the logic behind these new policies, I came up empty. No one seems to know where the data comes from, nor will they divulge these statistics if they do. I would think that the data is extracted from insurance claims. The reluctance to give out statistics evidently comes from the fact that each carrier does not want the other competing carrier to know their business.
One local agent I spoke to hosts an annual seminar with politicians. Being concerned about the fact that NY lacks enough underwriters for policies because of the high rate of frivolous lawsuits, he spent a day with our representatives discussing this issue. He revealed that he was unable to get anywhere politically to remedy this critical issue here in NY. His parting impression was that it was only going to get worse.
Bird breeders should be allowed a discount for owning birds and guard dogs. Most bird owners do their utmost to prevent fire, theft and any other kind of liability since it's cost prohibitive to insure birds, not to mention that most often they are "part of the family" and irreplaceable. Of course, extra precaution should be taken to keep birds from the reach of visitors and to keep guard dogs restrained when allowing visitors into your home or aviary. If the visitor decides to stick their finger inside the cage of a biter, be it of the avian or canine type, then the liability should rest upon the shoulders of victim. According to one carrier, anyone who sells birds has a risk factor due to the frivolous lawsuits from unhappy buyers. Having a detailed contract of sale should put an end to your liability after the sale. I remember listening to an irate customer scream at me about her young Moluccan Cockatoo that I sold to her as a baby. I was flabbergasted when she said that she wasn't going to sue me because I didn't tell her HOW loud the bird could be. I had always counseled my customers in all aspects of bird care and what to expect, but I guess I should have included a decibel count.
Rather than raise rates, the insurers should provide animal sellers with legal contracts that protect them from crazy buyers. Of course, to round out the protection, you would have to require every visitor to your home or place of business to sign a contract dismissing you from any liability from a bird bite. Bird breeder/attorney Larry Ring has some sample contracts for buyers, sellers and breeder loan agreements on his website at http://home.inreach.com/ringlaw/ . You can reword them according to your preferences, but also check with the laws that govern your state regarding animal transactions. Be sure that you are in compliance with both state and local laws in the management and sale of your birds.
We are becoming a leery, constrained, and overzealously ruled society because of inappropriate lawsuits filed by the greedy. The majority of us are honest, hard-working people who are finding it harder and harder to make ends meet due to rising insurance costs that are mandatory in order to own property and drive a car. We are being penalized for the deeds of a few unscrupulous people.
I would like to hear from anyone who knows of or who has had a bird related claim. You can e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tips about insurance can be found at this site: http://www.iii.org
Winged Wisdom Note: Patricia Barth, owner of PLANNED PARROTHOOD(tm), has been a long term breeder of many species of hookbills along with being a speaker and writer on the subject. She also owns her own web design and hosting business.
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