KEYS & THE BIZ

A very large number of American families have young (or young-ish) children, dogs as pets, and both parents working. Forget about the covet-19 disaster; this too shall pass eventually. Now think about family economics before it and afterward. Part of it will involve families taking trips where they are away from the house.

Clearly, in that social system, there have been and there will be people who make their living (or part of it, anyway) by taking care of other people’s pets.  There are sitters; there are walkers; there are trainers; there are keepers (kennels), canine hoteliers, equine boarding houses, as it were (popularly known as stables), and so forth. Now, ignore vets; they are a different breed, as it were.

Still, even ignoring potential vet negligence, there is a whole genre of coverage sometimes called “pet care insurance.” (There is even a company by that name.) As with many other small businesses, there is liability insurance for these folks.  There will be general liability insurance (CGL), bonds for dishonesty, coverage for negligent bailment e.g., food poisoning, letting the cat be run over, letting Elenor’s miniature poodle gets bitten by a snake, failure to prevent a “dog war” where the walker is walking six dogs, two of which don’t like each other, and so forth.

One of the oddest components of these coverages is coverage for lost keys. I suppose it’s obvious enough when you think of it, but in these policies, there is often coverage for lost keys. Chelsea is sitting the three dogs of the Strump family, and the keys disappear.  It has been estimated that more than 20% of all covered losses are for this kind of event and the resultant damage expenses there might be. Furthermore, I suppose that if Chelsea loses the Strump keys and there is a break-in at the house, Chelsea might have extensive liability. (Granted, it might involve a subrogation action by the homeowner’s carrier or its fine arts policy.)

Why else? Because, whatever happens,  all the locks which the lost keys fit and operate will have to be replaced. If you have a large house with expensive locks, the size of the compensable injury would go up pretty fast. Maybe the doors would also have to be repaired or replaced. Imagine that the locks cannot be removed without tearing up the expensive paint on the doors. (Even routine key cases might well involve several thousand dollars, and if the sitter is working her way through college, that loss might be something overwhelming.  These small business persons are going to need very small copays.)

Now, start multiplying the relative size of the operation. Imagine that the business has a number of part-time sitters and that there must be coverages for each of them.

Odd-ball? Sure. Surprising coverage? No doubt. Necessary for this unusual-looking business? Probably. Not everything is odd-ball, however. It should surprise not coverage lawyer that policies specify that what is being “sat” is “truly a pet.” I think this means that if Chelsea is sitting the Strump’s pig, Ivan, but he is not simply a member of the household, as it were, but also a commercial active entity, then there would be no pet sitting coverage for Chelsea unless the Stump’s has a second real pet.

One may remember that the 2012 Republican candidate for president is said to have driven on a family vacation trip with the large family dog strapped to the roof of the car. Many doubt this actually happened. There was considerable campaign disagreement about this at the time. “Animal cruelty, by God!” said some. But one lesson for sure. Leave the dog at home; hire at least one sitter; and make sure s/he has coverage–after all, you have to hand over your keys.

Michael Sean Quinn, PhD, JD, CPCU, Etc

Michael Sean Quinn, PhD, JD, CPCU, Etc. (530)

One of Texas's leading insurance scholars, Michael Sean Quinn is a past chair of the Insurance Section of the State Bar of Texas and has a broad legal practice.

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