Ensuring owners are insuring their pets

Updated: 2013-03-07 10:41

By Shi Yingying in Shanghai (China Daily)

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Few pet owners in China insure their pets due to patchy legislation on animal ownership and an immature pet insurance market.

However, since more households have animal companions, the issue is getting more traction.

A recent high-profile case has underlined the need for animal insurance. An elderly woman surnamed Wu, in Shanghai, went grocery shopping, panicked, slipped and fell when she came across a dog.

She broke her leg in the fall and tried to sue the owner, surnamed Chen, for 180,000 yuan ($29,000).

The judge ruled that Wu's fear of dogs wasn't the fault of the owner, so the compensation was reduced to 90,000 yuan. But the case would have been resolved more easily if Chen had pet insurance.

Pet-related injuries went up 50 percent from January to May 2012, compared to the same period in 2011, according to Shanghai's Huangpu district people's court.

There were just 30 cases involving disputes over pets in the city in 2008, while this figure jumped to 72 in 2011, says Tang Zhengming, an employee at the court.

"The main problem solving such cases is deciding if and to what extent the dog contributed to the injury, because there is usually no direct contact between dogs and the injured," says Jin Minzhen, vice-president of Shanghai's Huangpu district people's court.

"It is even more difficult for those who are injured by wild dogs or abandoned pets to claim compensation. Even if the owner is found, they are not likely to shoulder the responsibility."

Liu Lang, vice-president of the China Small Animal Veterinary Association, says most Chinese people don't even think about buying pet insurance.

"They believe their dog won't bite people on the street, and there is no government ruling that forces dog owners to buy insurance," Liu says. "So they don't consider it. It's unlikely that Chinese will be buying third-party pet liability insurance in the next three to five years."

Liu adds that it's not about the expense. It's a mindset problem.

Liu points out that China Pacific Insurance used to offer pet insurance but pulled out from the market after disappointing sales.

In December, Shanghai authority officials discussed the possibility of third-party insurance companies insuring dogs in Shanghai, but no action was taken.

Xiong Qianfen, who helps organize the Shanghai Pet Fair every year, says that, so far, only State-owned insurance companies are qualified to sell pet insurance.

"Privately operated insurance companies are not allowed to run the business," Xiong says.

"The industry is still waiting for policymakers to take action."

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