Five Massachusetts companies add option for injury coverage

By Donna Goodison

Many pet lovers consider their cats and dogs to be family members, and now they can even “insure” they’re covered in case of a car accident.

Since Massachusetts deregulated the auto insurance industry in 2008, five companies have added pet injury coverage as an option for their policies.

Just as auto insurance will cover the medical costs of drivers and passengers injured in accidents, some policies now will cover $500 to $1,000 for veterinarian bills – with no deductible.

“I think it’s a good idea to offer that because a pet is part of the family, you know?” said Dianne Autenzio, owner of Wilmington Pet Shop. “The vet bills can run very high, especially if it’s an emergency call. It’s like going to an emergency room at a hospital. It’s very expensive.”

Quincy-based Arbella Mutual Insurance added a “Pet Lover’s Endorsement” in May, and hundreds of policy holders have added the optional coverage. For $20 a year, they can get up to $500 to treat injuries sustained by their cat or dog in an accident or for burial or disposal costs should the pet die.

“We saw a recent trend in the number of our competitors beginning to offer this,” said Mark Teller, Arbella’s manager of personal lines product management. “There’s a demand. Our customers really like it, and I think it gives our agents a competitive edge against some of the other carriers that might not offer it.”

Cats and dogs are susceptible to the same injuries suffered by their human companions in car crashes.

The Angell Animal Medical Center in Boston sees an average of two to three animals a month hurt in accidents. It treats pets for whiplash, fractured bones and injuries from the impact of airbags opening and, in severe cases, when an animal is projected into a windshield, according to MSPCA-Angell spokesman Brian Adams.

“(Pet injury coverage) can only be a good thing in the long run because that means the animal would be provided care when he or she may not otherwise if a person didn’t have insurance,” Adams said.

Ohio-based Progressive was the first U.S. insurance company to add pet injury coverage to its auto policies in 2007, introducing it locally the following year when it started doing business in Massachusetts.

Free and automatically included for drivers who have comprehensive and collision coverage, Progressive’s policy pays up to $1,000 for vet costs. Policy holders also are covered in the case of a car theft or fire.

Progressive extended its pet injury coverage to RVs last year and to boats in September.

“Restraining your pet isn’t required for our coverage to apply,” spokeswoman Brittany Senary said. “However, for the safety of you and your pet, we encourage you to secure your dog or cat inside your vehicle when it’s moving.”

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