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A Treat For Fido, Fluffy: Car Insurance

Sep 10, 2007

By Diane Levick, The Hartford Courant, Conn.

Sep. 11--Car insurance for dogs and cats?

No, they're not being trained to drive. An insurer named Progressive wants to protect pets from stupid human tricks at the wheel.

Progressive is believed to be the first auto insurer promising to pay its own customers for dog or cat injuries or death -- up to $500 per accident -- when their pets are hurt while riding in their vehicles.

Normally, if the other driver causes the accident, his or her policy would cover your pets, Spot or Snowflake. Under the other driver's policy, the "property damage liability" section could be tapped to take care of your pet because under the law, pets are considered property.

But Progressive knows that sometimes their customers crash and either they're to blame, there's no other vehicle involved, or the other guy is at fault, but doesn't have insurance.

So the Progressive Group of Insurance Companies, a major auto insurer looking to grow, decided to add dogs and cats automatically to its customers' collision coverage in most states, including Connecticut.

Collision coverage is an optional part of auto insurance policies and covers damage to your own vehicle. Progressive customers will only get the paws protection if they have collision coverage and file a claim for damage to their own vehicle.

There's no additional charge for the pet coverage, announced Monday in a press release written as if penned by a dog. The coverage took effect last week, and Progressive customers will be mailed a notice about the new feature.

Mayfield, Ohio-based Progressive came up with the pet idea because "we're always looking for new and different ways of helping our customers" and "we know pets are part of the family," said Geoff Souser, product manager at the company.

Birds, bunnies, reptiles, gerbils and other pets are out of luck, though. Progressive figured it had to draw the line somewhere.

He promises people won't have to jump through hoops to get Progressive to cover those vexing vet bills. "It's not going to be a hassle for you," Souser said.

The policy language says it will pay for "reasonable and customary" vet care, so there shouldn't be any bones of contention over Fido's fate.

Policyholders will have to submit a copy of their veterinarian bill to Progressive, but there aren't any medical services excluded from the pet coverage as long as they're a result of the accident. Just don't try to stick the insurer with a doggy teeth-cleaning.

The pet payout isn't subject to the deductible you have on your collision coverage. And, unlike human health insurance, Progressive won't levy co-pays or co-insurance on pet owners for their pooch's vet bills.

On the other hand, the cap of $500 on the benefit won't go very far. Many pet owners know it's not hard to rack up $1,500, $2,000, or more in vet bills after a serious injury -- especially if the pet has to be taken to an after-hours emergency clinic. Souser, a former dog owner, acknowledges that the $500 may fall short, but added, "We're hoping to alleviate some of that cost."

Progressive will pay a customer's vet bills up to $500 in an accident, regardless of how many pets were injured in his or her car. So don't expect $1,000 of coverage if you had two pets along for the ride.

If a pet riding in a customer's car at the time of a crash dies, Progressive will pay $500 whether the pet is replaced or not.

Progressive's pet benefit is not a replacement for pet health insurance, which covers accidents and illnesses and has become more widely available in recent years. Progressive's pet coverage is not yet available in New York, North Carolina, New Hampshire and Virginia.

Meanwhile, the pet provision is available in 46 states and Washington, D.C., and is being shamelessly promoted by the "spokesdog" who allegedly pawed out the press release.

"Tomorrow morning," the dog suggests, "instead of bringing your master the newspaper, maybe you should fetch the mouse pad and point your master to progressive.com ..."

Contact Diane Levick at dlevick@courant.com.

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Copyright (c) 2007, The Hartford Courant, Conn.

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