Recently in Zanesville, Ohio, a man released more than 50 wild animals before committing suicide. This brought the issue of people owning wild animals to the forefront of people's minds—and, of course, brought the coverage issues to the minds of insurance professionals.
If a homeowner owns a tiger, for example, and that tiger gets loose and attacks a neighbor, is there coverage?
While one might think that surely owning wild animals would be excluded on your standard homeowners policy, you would be wrong. There is no liability exclusion for any particular type of animal, be it a domestic dog or a wild tiger. The policy provides medical payments for injury caused by an animal owned by or in the care of an insured. So you could even be walking the neighbor's tiger for him and, if the tiger attacks someone, your insurance would pay the medical bills. Damage to property of others is covered so that if your tiger snacks on the neighbor's dog, that is covered as well.
But what if the state has laws against owning such wild things? Is coverage excluded then?
Believe it or not, there is no exclusion for illegal acts, other than the use, sale, manufacture, delivery, transfer or possession of a controlled substance. Lions, tigers and bears are not controlled substances.
Lions and tigers are the big examples of exotic pets, but there are plenty of reptiles that either escape or are released into the wild that cause havoc. It's impossible to track down the owner of a released snake and hold him liable, but what do you think about owning exotic pets? Should you be allowed to have an honest to goodness "big cat" instead of just an inordinately chubby housecat? What do you think about owning exotic pets and the fact that they are automatically covered under your homeowners policy?