Are injured pets covered by your car insurance?

Gina Roberts-Grey

Love taking your dog Buddy or your cat Bootsy for a ride in the car? Letting your dog or cat ride shotgun could result in them being injured in a car crash, and those injuries can lead to costly veterinarian bills.

Adding insult to pet injury: Pet injuries aren’t always covered by traditional car insurance policies. For instance, State Farm’s car insurance policies don't include coverage for veterinary care for pets, company spokesman Dick Luedke says.

On the other hand, pet injury coverage automatically is included -- at no extra cost -- in optional collision coverage from Progressive. If you're ever in a car accident and your dog or cat is hurt, Progressive pays up to $1,000 toward vet bills. Coverage extends to a dog or cat belonging to a relative who lives with you. This coverage isn't available in New Hampshire or North Carolina.

Who pays for injured paws?

Kevin Foley, president of PFT&K Insurance Brokers in Milltown, N.J., says that if you’re at fault for a car accident that involves another motorist's pet passenger, the pet owner could look to your car insurance company to cover the animal’s vet bills.

“If you break Fido, you fix Fido," Foley says.

Under most car insurance policies, your pet's injuries will be covered only if you were not at fault in the accident, according to Progressive. If the accident wasn't your fault, the other driver's car insurance most likely will cover your pet through property damage liability coverage.

“If your dog is injured in an auto accident caused by another driver, you should present the vet bills to the other driver’s insurance company along with damage sustained to your car and the police report that listed your pet as being in the car,” Foley says.

If the worst happens and your dog or cat is killed, Foley suggests presenting the burial or cremation expenses as part of the claim to the car insurance company of the at-fault driver.

“You can make the claim for emotional distress over the death of the pet, but if I were to pursue that, I'd use an attorney,” Foley says.

However, if you’re the at-fault driver and your animal is the one injured – or worse – you and your car insurance company could be left holding the financial bag for vet bills.

Pet project: Coverage for dogs and cats

A few car insurance companies have started offering endorsements (policy modifications) that cover pets regardless of who's at fault in a car crash.

In February 2011, for instance, Chubb introduced a car insurance policy that covers $2,000 worth of pet injuries in a handful of states, including Texas and New Jersey.

Mark Wheeler, manager of personal lines underwriting at the Arbella Insurance Group in Quincy, Mass., says his company's car insurance policyholders can buy what's known as the "Pet Lover's Endorsement." The additional coverage -- offered as part of optional comprehensive or collision coverage -- pays up to $500 for treatment or burial expenses for an injured or killed dog or cat that was riding in a policyholder's car.

No deductible applies to Arbella's pet coverage, Wheeler says. During the term of the policy, a claim can made only one time for one pet.

“The coverage costs about $20 a year and protects the pets of our policyholder and their related household members," Wheeler says, "but does not extend to pets owned by other passengers.”

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