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Animals and Accidents: When Auto Insurance May Save the Day

Whether you're the owner of the vehicle or the owner of the pet, it's nerve-wracking and heartbreaking when an animal is hit in the road. Here are some guidelines to better understand who's liable and who's covered in these circumstances.

If you hit an animal

Although you may think of hitting an animal as a collision, the collision coverage portion of your auto insurance policy would not cover you. Instead, it's the comprehensive portion that would kick in if you hit an animal with your car, says Deborah Becker, an agent for State Farm in Eau Claire, Wis.animals auto accidents

Comprehensive coverage, which pays for any damages the animal causes to the car, is an optional form of coverage. You'll have to add it to your policy, and it will cost extra. In addition, you'll usually have to pay a deductible out of pocket before your insurer picks up the rest of the repair bill.

If the animal was someone's pet, you may be able to recover that deductible from the animal's owner, according to Becker. Say, for example, that pet was running around the neighborhood without a leash on. After it pays your claim, your insurer might try to recoup its own losses from the pet's owner -- a process called "subrogation."

"If the animal is a dog or cat and your insurance company successfully subrogates against the owner of the animal, you could have your deductible, and the amount of repairs you had to pay out of pocket before your comprehensive coverage kicked in, returned to you," Becker says.

If your pet is hit

If your dog or cat gets hit by a car, it's more likely that you'll be held liable for any damage to the car than the driver would be for hitting your pet. Suing the driver for compensation to cover your pet's injuries is often futile because of leash laws, which put the burden of responsibility on pet owners.

To be eligible for any compensation in these instances, pet owners would have to go the extra mile to prove that the driver was in some way negligent. Chances are, the pet owner would be reimbursed only for the pet's value, rather than for the thousands of dollars in veterinary bills.

"Typically, the animal is considered property, so if the car, for example, jumped the curb and ran the animal down, it would be akin to running into and damaging a house," says Loretta Worters, a spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute.

If a pet is injured while inside your car

Auto insurance protection for pets is rare. Progressive, however, automatically includes "pet injury coverage" under its collision coverage. If you have collision coverage on your policy, this pet protection will pay up to $1,000 toward veterinary bills if a dog or cat is injured while inside the vehicle.

This type of protection differs from pet health insurance, which covers veterinary care when an animal is sick or has suffered injuries, regardless of the cause. Pet health insurance is available from a variety of providers, including dog food companies, the American Kennel Club and specialty insurers like Trupanion.

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