September 7, 2023

Don’t Let Your Dog Take A Bite Out of Your Wallet!

Most dogs will fight an armed robber, but they often fear the vacuum cleaner. Dogs are helpful creatures in therapy, but when startled, anything can happen. We will discuss the subject in general and provide two real-life cases involving dogs.

First, we want to recognize that the social worker profession is noble and founded on service, integrity, and clinical expertise. At times, it can be a stressful and hazardous occupation. The nation is grateful for what you do. AND SO ARE WE! Thank you!

According to American Addiction Centers (see: AmericanAddictionCenters.org Pros and Cons of Animal Assisted Therapy” by James Regan, Sept. 15, 2022), animal-assisted therapy is extremely popular and is in leading treatment categories with yoga, art, and music. Hospitals and addiction treatment facilities highly regard it. Studies have documented favorable results for patients, including reduced blood pressure, increased endorphins, and decreased stress hormones like cortisol and epinephrine.

There are notable aspects of soothing attributes associated with canine therapy. According to The New York Times (“Why Dogs Can Be So Healing For Kids,” by Catherine Pearson, June 22, 2023), a new study suggests that spending time with therapy dogs may help lower children’s stress levels even more than relaxation exercises. A recent study found that two sessions per week with a dog and handler lowered children’s levels of cortisol. This calming influence applies to healthy children as well.

Regan reported that canine therapy provides patients with “transferrable attachment” ability. Patients learn transferable relationship tools in canine therapy. Helping patients rebuild strong social networks that are vital for long-term sobriety. (AmericanAddictionCenters.org)

Certain risks should be considered, according to Bronwen Watson at MyMed.com. Before canine therapy, consider these factors:

Safety:
People and dogs can sustain injuries from scratches, falls, bites, and property damage. The therapy environment plays a part, too, including indoor and outdoor venues.

Sanitation and Hygiene:
Animal waste, ticks, fleas, dander, and allergens.

Patient Attachment:
The patient may have possessive behaviors and show a reluctance to separate from the dog at the end of the session.

Patient or dog rejection:
There may be mutual rejection between the patient and the dog.

Regarding the insurance aspects and risks, there are two examples to share.

The first example is an insurance claimPreferra Insurance Company RRG a few years ago.The insured social worker ran late one workday and could not bring his pet dog to the doggy daycare facility. So, he decided to bring his pet dog to the office. The 6-year-old son of a patient was patting the dog in the social worker’s waiting room while his mother was undergoing treatment in the social worker’s office. A UPS driver opened the office door to deliver a package, startled the dog, and the dog bit the boy on the lip.

This incident is generally not covered by any professional liability policy because it has nothing to do with the treatment and the rendering of professional services. However, the Preferra general liability policy covered the claim, responded with no deductible, and paid all the $11,000 in costs associated with the damages. The Preferra-insured social worker was 100% protected and sustained zero costs.

This case is a prominent example of the dangers of introducing personal pets into the practitioner’s theater. It is also a compelling example of buying a general liability policy when you buy a professional liability policy. Beware of a general liability endorsement to a professional liability policy because our research proves that a general liability endorsement is not an actual general liability cover. If you utilize canine therapy, buy a canine endorsement to your professional liability policy. Preferra offers a canine endorsement to its professional liability policy at a meager premium.

The second example is more complex and somewhat obscure. While not directly related to canine therapy and social work, the facts surrounding coverage and representations on the liability insurance application can be.

In this court case, a homeowner’s dog bit someone in the face—a claim against the homeowner’s insurance coverage for damages. The insurance carrier did not cover the claim because the homeowner applicant of the policy lied and told the insurance agent that he did not have a dog when applying for coverage. Had the truth been told, this material fact would have precluded policy issuance by the insurance carrier.

Although the insurance agent filled out the application for the applicant, the U.S. District Court found that the insurance company had no duty to defend nor indemnify because of the material misrepresentation. The homeowner applicant for insurance had to read the policy and application before signing it. Misrepresented facts by the applicant and fraudulent conduct made materially false statements. Either no policy is issued or to have coverage, add a required endorsement with an additional premium.

The Court determined that the insured knew that the statement on the application was false regardless of the insurance agent filling in the application form on behalf of the applicant. Failing to read the application before signing it is no excuse. The burden is on the applicant to use “reasonable diligence to ensure correctly written answers.” (U.S. District Judge Kari A. Dooley, Connecticut presiding).“The insurance agent signed the application attesting that he was the applicant’s authorized representative and that he made a reasonable inquiry to procure the answers to the questions.” (Ibid)

The essence of this agency relationship, regardless of whether it is in person, over the telephone, or online, is the “manifestation of consent by one person to another that the other shall act on his behalf and subject to his control, and consent by the other to so act.” (Ibid)

In other words, be truthful in your insurance applications and representations. Omissions are the same as fraudulent representation because this is a critical step in the underwriting process.

If you work with canine therapy, make sure that you buy a professional liability policy that has an endorsement to cover this modality, and make sure that you have a general liability policy to protect you if your service dog bites a non-patient at home or in your office.

Thank you for all that you do! Your profession is genuinely noble and needed now more than ever. Good luck, and stay healthy!