Pets ride in cars all the time, but what if they're injured in a car accident? Whose car insurance company pays to treat their injuries? The answer depends on the cause of the accident.
Riding in cars can be dangerous for pets (as well as distracting to the driver), especially because they ride without the benefit of seat belts. If someone crashes into you and causes injuries to your pet, you're entitled to make a “third-party claim" with their car insurance company for your pet's medical bills. That's because their liability car insurance policy must put you “back where you were" before the accident.
If you are at-fault in a car accident in which your pet is injured, you'll want to check your car insurance policy for exclusions. Say you crash into another car or a fence: Collision insurance pays for the repairs to your own vehicle. But you may have an exclusion on your collision insurance coverage for damage to personal property that you are transporting, whether it's your antique vase or your pet. If your car insurance policy has such exclusions, you won't have a valid claim. For example, one insurance company says that its policies don't provide coverage for pet injuries. Car insurance coverage may vary depending on the car insurance company, so be sure to carefully check your policy.
In this scenario, if you don't carry collision coverage at all, you must pay for all damage from the accident, including your car and pet.
Perhaps someone comes to visit you and your dog goes to lie down under their car. Then, unknowingly, the visitor backs over your pet. Is the visitor liable for your dog's injuries? Yes, he is, but not under the bodily injury section of his car insurance policy. Bodily injury pays out for injuries sustained by any “one person" in an accident. Your pet doesn't qualify as a person so he's not covered by this portion of the car insurance policy policy.
However, for car insurance purposes, your pet qualifies as your “personal property, " and you have the right to be “put back where you were" before the accident - in this case, meaning having a healthy dog. You'd have the right to make a claim on your visitor's car insurance policy for your dog's medical bills, just as you would have the right to make a claim if the driver backed over your lawnmower.
The death of a pet
Certainly pets are part of the “family, " and the death of a beloved pet can lead to extreme grief. But your pet's status as your “personal property" may limit your options for compensation if someone causes an accident that kills your pet. State laws do not recognize the loss of personal property as valid claims for “loss of companionship" compensation, unlike the loss of a spouse. In the event your pet is killed in an accident, you can likely make a claim only for the “market value" of your pet.
Some courts have allowed damages for deceased pets to go beyond “market value" by applying “pecuniary value" or “special value, " which applies to personal property that has no ascertainable market value.
Tips for traveling by car with pets (Source: American Veterinary Medical Association)
- Cats should be in a cage or in a cat carrier to allow them to feel secure and prevent them from crawling under your feet while you are driving.
- A dog that must ride in a truck bed should be in a protective kennel that is fastened to the truck bed.
- Dogs riding in a car should not ride in the passenger seat if it is equipped with an airbag, and should not be allowed to sit on the driver's lap.
- Harnesses, tethers and other accessories to secure pets during car travel are available at most pet stores.
- Pets should not be allowed to ride with their heads outside car windows. Particles of dirt or other debris can enter the eyes, ears and nose, causing injury or infection.
Amy Danise is an editor for Visit for a comprehensive array of comparative auto, life and health quotes, including a vast library of originally authored insurance articles. is dedicated to providing impartial insurance information to consumers. Visitors can obtain instant quotes from more than 200 leading insurers, achieve maximum savings and have the freedom to buy from any company shown.