My dog travels everywhere with me and I'm wondering if pet injuries resulting from a car accident are covered by auto insurance? – Bernie in Kitimat, B.C.
Insurance is available to cover pet injuries, including those sustained in a motor vehicle accident, but this coverage is not likely included with your automotive policy.
"In Ontario, only persons are considered to be covered occupants. So if someone is looking to protect their pet, they need to actually be looking into pet insurance – and not just to cover car accidents, but to cover the raft of a pet's needs," says Janine White of Kanetix.ca insurance marketplace.
The exclusion of pets from auto insurance policies holds across the country. According to the Insurance Corp. of British Columbia (ICBC), for example, a pet is not considered to be an "insured" under ICBC's basic coverage.
"If you are at fault in a crash and, as a result your pet is injured, you could not make a claim under your own car insurance for injuries to your pet. However, if another motorist is at fault, then you may have the basis for a third-party tort claim against the at-fault motorist, in which you could try to recover your expenses to cover the pet's vet and medication bills due to the car crash," says an ICBC spokesperson.
If you're considering insurance for your pet, there are a few things to keep in mind when shopping around.
"You have to carefully check the wording on pet insurance because sometimes, if it's perceived that the cause was the owner, so for example an at-fault accident, if you're actually the one causing the injuries, then it might be not covered. Depending on the pet insurance policy you buy, you need to understand that part of it," says White.
You might wonder why some pet owners choose to shell out for insurance; how high can the medical bills for a dog or cat possibly be?
"We had a $34,000 claim two months ago for a pet that was hit by a car and, on any given day we're probably paying out 1,000 or 1,500 claims for pets that are involved in car accidents. And that's just us," says Darryl Rawlings, founder and CEO of Trupanion pet medical insurance, a Canadian company that also operates in the United States.
"If a pet has insurance with Trupanion, we cover not only the medical expenses from an accident while it was inside of the car, we also cover if the pet was hit outside of the car – if a car ran over a dog for example, as well as all other medical problems, from allergies that last for a lifetime to diabetes and cancer. We cover 90 per cent of the veterinarian's actual bills," says Rawlings.
Rawlings draws parallels between automotive and pet insurance. "The out-of-pocket expense for a sick or injured pet is similar to the out-of-pocket expense if a car has a serious mechanical breakdown or is in an accident. The cost for a pet surgery is $5,000 to $10,000, which is similar to the cost if you get into an accident and they repair your car. And yet 98 per cent of people who have a car have car insurance, while in Canada only 3 to 5 per cent of pets – of a total of roughly 14 million dogs and cats – have pet insurance.
"With car insurance, if you get in a car accident, and you have a $20,000 car and it's a $22,000 cost to repair it, they give you a brand-new car. But anybody who owns a pet knows that you can't replace an existing pet. They're live creatures with personalities. You can get another golden retriever, but it's not going to be the same as your previous one," says Rawlings.