Haftpflichtversicherung

Liability insurance, as common in Germany as Brötchen and Angst

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The Dachshund in its natural environment: Germany. Source: DPA

You know that popular saying, “There’s probably a German word for this?” Well, Germans have their own saying — “There’s probably an insurance for this.” If there’s one thing our German friends hate, it’s risk. And nothing helps manage risk better than insurance.

And the insurance most Germans won’t live without is a general liability policy, known as Haftpflichtversicherung. It covers you if you do anything stupid, like accidentally break a friend’s TV during a contentious match of Fortnite or shatter a neighbor’s window, Charlie Brown-style, with a soccer ball.

Ask your German friends and you’ll be astonished at how many carry Haftpflichtversicherung as well as their horror that you don’t. And it’s not expensive — think less than €100 a year for millions in coverage.

But there are things it won’t cover. If you own a car, for example, a separate liability policy is required, barring any special combi-insurances. And dogs. Dog owners may think Fluffy won’t bite, but insurers do, so they require special canine liability policies and exempt coverage in personal policies.

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Insurance claim! Source: DPA

Many politicians also think Fluffy’s a biter — six German states require every dog owner to have a separate dog liability policy. The practice began in Hamburg in 2007 after a dog killed a child. Berlin, Brandenburg, Lower Saxony, Thuringia and Schleswig-Holstein then followed suit. Others have their own version of the requirement: North Rhine-Westphalia requires Hundeversicherung for dogs 40 centimeters and larger, and Saxony-Anhalt requires coverage only for specific breeds.

Meanwhile, in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate, bureaucrats can demand insurance for doggos they deem dangerous. Generally, those breeds considered fighting dogs need insurance throughout Germany except in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, where there is no expectation of insurance for any dog.

According to German law, you are responsible for any damage done by your dog, regardless of the situation, and without a liability policy, it will come straight out of your pocket. The special liability insurance has been a hot topic in the German press as pet ownership in Germany has surged by nearly 50 percent in the past decade, according to Statista, while stagnating elsewhere in Europe.

Germany doesn’t require any other pets to be insured but getting liability for a horse might be a good idea just because of its brawn. The same goes for exotic reptiles. The traditional animal insurer Uelzener doesn’t offer reptile insurance but it can be found on specialist portals. The insurance is more to cover the cost of recovering an escaped lizard or snake that is seen as an invasive species rather than a poisonous bite.

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But back to Germany and its obsession with insurance. Here’s an interesting example from a recent Handelsblatt article that will make any expat feel woefully undercovered:

Say a guest at a barbecue is injured when the grill tips over, burning the guest. If the host tipped over the grill, the host’s Haftpflichtversicherung would pick up the tab for everything but follow-on medical care (health insurance covers this). However, should the grill have inexplicably tipped over, the guest’s own accident insurance (Unfallversicherung) could cover any permanent physical damage, or even death.

Should the guest/victim miss out on work, they could claim reimbursement from their private disability policy (Berufsunfähigkeitsversicherung). And if the tipped-over grill damaged clothing, outdoor furniture or even set the building on fire, in comes homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Many homeowner’s and renter’s policies in Germany will cover your stuff even if it’s away from home, like at a nearby lake.

May we suggest an evening of insurance bingo for your next house party in Germany? Just make sure your dog is already covered.

This article was cobbled together by Andrew Bulkeley, a Handelsblatt Global editor in Berlin, based on stories by Christian Schnell, a Handelsblatt journalist in Munich, and Handelsblatt intern Sheera Plawner. To contact the authors: a.bulkeley@handelsblattgroup.com and schnell@handelsblatt.com.

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