Many Germans love animals. More than 30 million pets are kept in this country, according to the industry association for pet supplies (IVH). These include 10 million dogs alone. And he is not only a loyal companion and friend of humans, but also a predator at the same time. Nevertheless, the number of pets has been increasing for years. This is also due to the increasing number of single households.
There is no end in sight to the trend: forecasts by the Federal Statistical Office in Wiesbaden have shown that the number of one-person households will increase by 2 million to 19.3 million households by 2040. But while in the past it was mainly households with small children who bought (small) pets, today it is increasingly one-person households who want to be alone with a cat or dog.
Since around every second single keeps an animal, the pet market is growing and has long since grown into a regular industry.
Last year the German pet industry achieved sales of 5.2 billion euros – an increase of more than two percent. The specialist and food retailers in particular benefit from this. But the insurance industry is also increasingly entering the comparatively new market.
The Hamburg insurer Hanse-Merkur is regarded as one of the industry leaders. So far, hundreds of thousands of dogs have been insured. According to the »financial test«, full health insurance for these four-legged friends can cost up to 1,300 euros a year. After an operating theater insurance introduced in 2019 sold well, Hanse-Merkur is now also planning coverage for cat owners. Other providers already have this in their program.
Liability insurance is a classic on the « pet market », as the industry uses it. Small animals such as hamsters, mice and cats are usually covered by personal liability insurance – but dogs are not. In order to protect themselves against damage, dog owners need dog liability insurance. A must because it covers financial, property and personal injury. An annual fee for a dog is around 50 euros.
Even dachshunds are dangerous
Against this background, a ruling by the Frankfurt am Main Higher Regional Court caused a sensation among lawyers. The verdict is about a woman who sat down on a park bench with her dog on a leash. A two year old child approached the dog and touched the animal. The dog turned out to be an aggressive animal (again): first it growled, then it bit the child in the face. The toddler had to be hospitalized for a month and a half so that the severe injuries could heal.
The dog had bitten occasionally before. The woman with her darling was therefore no longer allowed to approach children under the age of 14. A penalty warrant for negligent bodily harm was issued against the dog owner. She was also sentenced to pay the child around 100,000 euros in compensation for pain and suffering.
Your dog owner’s liability insurance should pay for this damage. However, the insurance company did not see itself in the »obligation to pay«. The basis for this assessment was a clause in the contract that excludes services as soon as there is a breach of duty. However, the clause only applies as soon as the damage was caused « by deliberate deviation » from laws or regulations on dog ownership. The higher regional court ruled that the woman did not commit such a breach of duty in this case.
So the insurer has to pay the 100,000 euros. At the same time, however, the court confirmed that such an exception clause is legal. As soon as a conscious breach of duty by the dog owner can be proven, the insurance no longer has to pay. The insured then bear the entire damage themselves.
Liability for the little ones too
What many dog owners – with and without an insurance contract – do not know: Even the smallest dogs are threatened with hardship due to an enormous liability risk. The principle of strict liability according to Section 833 of the German Civil Code (BGB) applies to dog owners: If an animal kills a person or injures a person’s body or health or damages something, then the person who keeps the animal is obliged to to compensate the injured person for the resulting damage.
« In the worst case, mistress or master are liable to the point of ruin for damage caused by the dog, » writes the journal « Versicherungsbote » on the Frankfurt case. Even a sleeping dachshund can be fatal as soon as the animal triggers an accident with high levels of property damage and personal injury. A dog owner was sentenced by the Hamm Higher Regional Court to 15,000 euros in compensation for pain and suffering because an elderly lady fell on the condemned’s sleeping dog and was injured. Animal love alone is not enough.