GOP Lawmaker, Insurance Agency Owner Sponsors Bill to Reduce Liability for Dog Bites

October 28, 2015

A GOP lawmaker who also owns an insurance company is sponsoring bills backed by the insurance industry that would reduce the liability of dog owners when their pets injure people or damage property.

Under current law, a dog owner is liable for two times the amount of damages caused by a dog that injures a person, domestic animal or property if the owner knew of a previous attack by the dog on a person, another domestic animal or property.

The measures, Assembly Bill 413 and Senate Bill 286, would make the dog owner liable only when the dog bites a person; and only when the bite breaks the skin and permanently scars or disfigures the victim; and only when the owner knew that the dog had previously bitten someone as severely.

The bills are sponsored by GOP Sen. Frank Lasee, of De Pere, and Rep. Mary Czaja, of Irma, and is supported by the American Family Insurance, Sentry Insurance and state trade groups representing insurance companies and agents. Czaja is the owner of CIS Insurance Agency in Tomahawk and Rhinelander.

Lasee and Czaja are among the top recipients of insurance industry campaign contributions in the legislature. Between January 2011 and June 2015, Lasee accepted about $28,900 and Czaja accepted about $19,100 from the insurance industry.

Lasee’s top contributions from the industry between January 2011 and June 2015 include $1,500 each from political action committees (PAC) controlled by Humana and the Wisconsin Insurance Alliance, which is one of the bill’s supporters, and $1,000 each from Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance PAC and the Alliance of Health Insurers PAC.

Czaja’s top insurance industry contributor was Michael Martin, an Allied Insurance Center agent in Antigo, $750. Several other contributors gave her $500 each between January 2011 and June 2015, including: Humana PAC; Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance PAC; Insuring Wisconsin PAC; Gerald Couri, Waukesha, owner of Couri Insurance Agency; Ronald Von Haden, Madison, owner of Von Haden Insurance; Elizabeth Verheyen, West Bend, owner of George Verheyen Insurance; Michael Ansay, Port Washington, chairman of Ansay & Associates; and Kathy Potos, Belgium, an Anthem Blue Cross & Blue Shield executive.

In addition to the insurance liability changes, AB413 and SB286 would also increase the maximum civil forfeitures for dog injuries and property damage and allow victims of dog attacks to petition a court to have a dog killed. Currently, only the state or a municipality may ask a court to order a dog be killed for injuring a person or damaging property.