Animal Assisted Growth and Development Services for Liability

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If you provide Animal Assisted Growth & Development Services you have an unusual and moderately high liability exposure that is not easily insured by many insurance companies. There are two categories of Animal Assisted Services.

1. The Insured provides non-riding “light” animal therapy to patients in hospitals, and residents in nursing homes, children’s homes, schools, hospitals, assisted living facilities, and those with special needs living in private homes.  The service involves controlled, supervised observation, interaction, and touching of smaller docile animals such as service dogs, cats, rabbits, miniature horses or burrows by patients and residents whose lives can often be brightened by the experience of touching and interacting with an animal.

Some providers are volunteers who provide the service without pay.  Others are paid or compensated in some way for these services under a contract, or funding or sponsorships are raised to support it.

2. The Insured offers a fee service of providing animals for and assisting a professional physical therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist with therapy for people who may or may not be physically or mentally challenged. Animals have been used since about 1997 to help people to improve their emotional, behavioral, and communication problems by mental health professionals.  Success may be achieved when troubled people can observe problem-solving abilities in animals. Therapies involve the patient just watching or observing the animal’s behavior and problem solving reactions to “set-up” circumstances.  This may not involve touching of the animal, and these animals may not have a high degree of training.

The Insured should be trained and certified to provide the animal handling services for a therapy session. An unusual factor of this activity is that sometimes the Insured is also a licensed professional therapist who is providing the animal and handling services to other therapists.  At other times that same Insured may provide the animal and handling service in addition to providing therapy to the patient at the same time.  Professional malpractice insurance policies do not cover the GL exposure of providing the animal and handling as a service, so it is this coverage that we are providing.

The attending professional therapist should hold a degree in his or her area of expertise and carry a professional liability insurance (malpractice) policy in their name, a coverage that is not written under this program.

The Insured may have a Professional Liability exposure in addition to that for General Liability.  Professional Liability can be added to the general liability policy by endorsement for each professional animal handler, and there is a separate premium charge for this important coverage.

Animal (and Equine) Assisted programs have existed since about 1996.  Today animals and their handlers are ususally screened, trained and certified for this purpose.  Some organizations and colleges provide courses, certification, and degrees in Equine and Animal Assisted services.  Some organizations may require animals to recertify several times year, as their attitudes toward the work can change.

Criteria are strict.  Underwriters will review the purpose of the work, training, experience and credentials of the animal handler, the animal species and their ages, experience and training.  Some animals and animal species may not qualify for coverage.  Also considered are the types of people and facilities served, how animals are transported, how the contact experience is supervised or carried out, if it is done under a contract to a facility, and the number of people present for sessions.  Underwriters will also want to see a safety and emergency procedure plan should a handler encounter a problem, or not be able to complete a session.  The insured should have identified the most possible-to-occur emergency situations that could arise and develop a mitigation plan for each.

As an Animal Assisted Services provider, you worry that you may be sued or otherwise have a claim made against you for bodily injury or property damage by a client or someone else who comes in contact with you or the property that is part of your operations.  If sued, you will need to hire a lawyer to defend you and you wonder how you would go about doing this.  If found negligent or responsible, you would likely have to pay a court-ordered or agreed-upon settlement to the injured party.  Fortunately, much concern can be relieved when you buy a Commercial General Liability Policy [GL] to insure this activity.

Commercial General Liability Insurance protects you from financial loss should a patient, student, resident, visitor, or a trespasser become injured [Bodily Injury] or their property is damaged [Property Damage] in relation to your operations, and they make a claim or file a law suit against you for damages.

How Risky are Animal Assisted Growth & Development Services? Moderate.

Even though well trained, an animal is still somewhat unpredictable.  People are as well, and sometimes do things that threaten an animal and cause them to react to protect themselves. The biggest concern is the potential for bodily injury to patients, residents, assistants, and by-standers.  Animal bites and scratches would be a common concern, and bites can be severe if they happen.  A larger animal could step on or bump and bruise someone. An animal may scare a person and cause them to fall, or actually knock one down.  However, the careful choice, certification, and experience of animals, and the experience and training of handlers modify the exposure.  Careful supervision of an animal visit with a client also assists to moderate the exposure.

You Must Plan Ahead – A Five Pronged Strategy

No one wants someone to be injured on or in relation to their property or business operations. No one plans to have an accident that results in a liability claim they are responsible for. Yet, you still must plan against and for an accident, and there is a five-pronged strategy you should follow:

  1. Accident Avoidance is the first strategy. This is best accomplished by implementing a thoughtful operational risk reduction plan that provides a reasonably safe physical environment and procedures for horses and people. All staff members should be trained in those practices. [NAHA Risk Reduction Programs can assist you.]
  2. Emergency Procedure Planning is the second strategy, and it can be important to minimize the severity of an accident and provide proper care at the time.
  3. The third strategy is to use well-worded Warning and Release of Liability Agreements. [NAHA can provide contract models for you to evaluate and use.] Have them completed and signed completely and correctly by all participants. Keep the signed forms on file and safely stored for several years as suggested by an attorney in your state.
  4. The fourth strategy is to carefully review and comply with your state’s Equine Activities Immunities Law, if your state has one. All states have some form of the law except California, New York, Maryland, and Nevada. Some require special wording in warning and release agreements, and some require posting of specific warning signs on your property.
  5. Purchase an Equine Liability Insurance Policy that adequately covers and lists all of your specific activities in the policy. The policy should be placed with an A rated domestic insurance company having a good reputation for service, knowledge of equine risk, and for handling equine liability claims. Be wary of low pricing, as generally a low price means something important is missing in the policy or the Insurer may not understand how to price equine exposure. This important fifth strategy can protect you and your business from financial loss should an accident happen. It helps fulfill the sense of responsibility you have about serving the public, but it provides more than peace of mind. In event of a covered claim, the Insurer provides legal defense and pays for defense costs. It pays for claims costs and settlements made against you up to the limits of your policy. Just as important is the fact that knowledgeable professionals will handle and manage the details of your claim in a way that looks after your claim and litigation interests, so that you can continue functioning with the least amount of “hassle.”

Equine Activities Immunities Laws have been passed in 46 states. While these laws may help you avoid liability, they will not usually thwart a determined injured party from pursuing a claim or law suit. This is because to receive immunity under the law, the activity sponsor must have performed in a specific way according to what the law requires. And often immunity is determined through some type of expensive legal proceeding that can result in a large, often uncontrolled expense to an uninsured stable owner. You still need to be properly insured for liability.

General Liability Coverage & Limits

The General Liability Policy includes specified maximum limits or amounts of liability insurance for:

Medical Expense: Pays for low cost medical expense with no questions asked about your liability or responsibility in the matter.

Legal Defense Costs: Today court costs and hiring of a lawyer can quickly mount to $50,000 or more, an expense you do not want to come out of your pocket if you are sued and have to hire a lawyer.  If sued in relation to this activity,       the policy provides legal defense whether the case has merit or not.

Settlement or Claim Costs: For bodily injury and property damages for which you are responsible and held negligent and liable.

The Three most common claim incidents for Animal Assisted Services are:

1.  A handler losing control of an animal, whereby it injures a patient or other person it comes in contact with.

2.  A patient suffers additional or aggravated injury in relation to the condition for which they are seeking therapy.

3.  A patient becomes frightened about the animal and falls, or the animal knocks them to the ground.

4.  A larger animal steps on or bumps and bruises someone whose condition may be fragile.

Where to Begin

Your insurance needs are unique, therefore we believe in person to person service. Call or e-mail an Ark Agency Representative for an estimated premium, policy and company details, and qualification requirements. We work with several insurance companies and rates and coverage conditions vary. We will help you determine which application to use and advise on how to put insurance in force.

*General information is provided on this insurance topic. Acting on our coverage recommendations does not guarantee coverage if you have a loss or claim.

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