Pets and Car Accidents: Is My Dog Covered by Car Insurance?

Fran Majidi
June 7, 2019

People love their dogs, some even more than their children. We know children are covered in the event of a car accident, but what about pets? What if Fido got hurt after you collided with another driver? The fact is that laws surrounding pets in cars are hazy at best. Generally speaking, you can always try to fight for compensation through the other driver’s liability insurance if they are at fault but chances are that if the accident was your fault, you’re not covered unless you have collision and/or comprehensive insurance. If you do have full coverage, the law will most likely consider your pet as property, damage to which is covered under collision and comprehensive coverages. As horrible as the idea of your beloved pet being classified as property, this is how pets are treated with auto insurance across the board.

One thing dog owners can do to prevent catastrophe is to treat their pets like their children. If you restrain Fido in the backseat with a harness, not only will he be safer, but the chances of Fido becoming a projectile and injuring you and other passengers decrease. Here are some facts and advice on staying safe. According to Puppy Traffic School, only 16% of dog owners report using a restraint, which is a shocking number knowing how much people love their pets.

How Much of My Pet Expenses Are Covered?

How much of dogs’ injuries are covered depends on your insurance carrier. One insurer may pay out to limits while another will only pay a fraction. So, you will likely receive anywhere between $500 and $1,000 per pet per accident. Ideally, you’ll have both pet insurance and auto pet injury insurance (you can buy this as an endorsement to your current plan), which will take care of your pet 100% when combined. You will most likely not be covered, however, if the accident was your fault unless you have collision/comprehensive. Your pet injury auto coverage will only pay a claim if the other driver was at fault.

What Are the Laws Surrounding Pets in Cars?

According to AAA, 84 % of people admitted to having their pet unrestrained while driving with them in the car. The only states with pet laws on their books are Arizona, Connecticut, Maine and New Jersey. These states are vocal about the need to minimize distractions in a car while driving. If a pet is not properly restrained, not only is it in danger but it is also putting the drive in danger too. In Hawaii, the law forbids driving with a dog in your lap and Oregon is considering also enacting that law. Regardless of what the laws are on the books, you can be charged with distracted driving if you are driving with a car in your lap. The fact is that your dog doesn’t understand how serious a car ride can be and can easily distract you, so keep him/her in the back seat at all times, preferably restrained. In Rhode Islan  you have to restrain your pet and the law caries a fine of up to $200. In New Jersey, seat belts are required for dogs not secured in a crate within a moving vehicle, and failure to comply means drivers can face a fine of $250 to $1000. In Massachusetts and Minnesota, dogs in truck beds must be restrained and could be fined otherwise.

Steps to Take After an Accident with Pet in the Car

Make sure to keep all receipts from your pet’s vet visits, surgeries, medications and anything related to the accident at all. Without the proper paperwork you’ll have a hard time getting reimbursed for these expenses. You’ll have to file a claim for any accident and this one is no different, except that you’ll be sending in copies of medical records for a dog versus a person.

Now, for the trippiest part of it all: You’ll have to consider your pet’s market value if it dies as a result of the accident. This is the only way you will probably be compensated for your loss. Of course, the insurer may deny you what you think is a reasonable amount. You always have the option of taking the matter to small claims court.

Pet Safety: How Do I Keep My Dog Safe in the Car?

For one thing, don’t count on airbags saving your pooch if you collide with another car or object. Airbags can actually end up really hurting dogs, especially small dogs, when they inflate.

Ideally, you’ll want to restrain your cat or dog in the back seat. If you have no choice but to have your pet in the front, you’ll want to disable the passenger side airbag first.

Placing your pet in a carrier is the best way to travel with your cat or dog. They provide a protectectional barrier in case your car is impacted by a collision. If a carrier is too much, you can attach a harness to the seat to keep your pet in place while you’re driving. The risk a loose cat or dog pose while you’re driving cannot be over emphasized. For larger dogs, a crate is advised over a harness. If you have a truck, know that most cities prohibit pets from riding in the back of trucks. Even if the city you live in doesn’t have laws against it, you should avoid doing this. You risk your pet being thrown from the truck if you brake hard or collide with another car or object. Your dog may also get hurt from flying debris.

Are Dog Harnesses and Crates Crash Tested?

The Center for Pet Safety has done some testing and you can see which products are safer if you visit their website.

What if My Dog Is Hit by a Car While We Are Walking?

The same rule applies here. Your dog is considered your personal property so if your property is damaged (injured) and it is the driver’s fault, your dog would be covered by the driver’s insurance. However, if your dog was off-leash, the accident may be considered negligence on your part, and you may not get compensation.

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