If you have suffered an injury from a dog bite attack, you may be able to seek compensation for your injuries. Depending on the circumstances of the case, homeowners’ insurance may cover damages if the dog bites occur on the owner’s property. However, you should consult a Fort Myers dog bite lawyer who has experience with dog bite cases as soon as possible to discuss your options.
The Canine Journal reports that as of 2016, there were an estimated 78 million dogs in the United States and 4.5 million dog bites, 19 percent of which resulted in an injury. More than 36 percent of U.S. households own one or more dogs. Having a dog in the household increases the likelihood of being bitten. Dogs bite children more often than adults, and the injuries are usually more severe. In 2018, Florida and North Carolina had the highest number of fatal dog attacks, with four deaths each. According to the statistics, all of the Florida victims were female, ages 6 and under, including three infants.
Florida Dog Bite Laws
In general, the law provides that the owner of any dog that bites any individual is liable for the victim’s injuries. If a dog that has already been declared dangerous attacks without provocation and injures a person or domestic animal, the owner may be charged with a misdemeanor. The dog will be impounded for ten days, during which time the owner may request a hearing. In Florida, personal injury dog bite cases may fall under one of several legal theories, as follows:
Statutory Strict Liability
No matter how much we love them, dogs are still animals, and therefore, they are unpredictable. Sometimes an ordinary dog can bite unexpectedly. Because of this, many states have a “one bite rule,” which allows the dog and its owner some leniency if it is the first time it has bitten someone and it has never been aggressive before.
However, Florida does not have a “one bite rule.” Florida, like many other states, applies a legal standard known as statutory strict liability in dog bite cases. Section 767.04 of the Florida Dog Bite Statute states that dog owners can be held strictly liable for injuries when their dog bites a person and the person is in a public place or is lawfully in a private place. Therefore, the dog owner can be held for liable for the dog bite injuries, even if the dog has never bitten anyone or shown any tendency towards vicious or aggressive behavior. However, if the dog bite victim was partly to blame for the incident, then the owner may have less liability. In that situation, the court may reduce the victim’s compensation according to the amount of his or her fault.
Strict liability does not apply in every Florida dog bite case. Generally speaking, strict liability does not apply to any of the following individuals:
• Police or military dogs who are performing their duties
• Damages to property caused by a vicious dog
Not all dog-related injuries are bites. What if you were not bitten, and instead were knocked down and injured by a dog? Section 767.01 covers non-bite injuries. It makes a dog owner liable for “any damage” to a person or domestic animal.
Negligence and Florida Dog Bite Law
In addition to strict statutory liability, you may also have a cause of action on the grounds of negligence. This means that a dog owner may be liable to a dog bite victim if the dog owner violated a duty of care, which resulted in your injuries. Fundamentally, negligence considers whether a person’s actions are reasonable based on the circumstances. To win a negligence claim, you and your attorney will have to prove that the dog owner violated some duty of care, which resulted in your injuries.
Negligence Per Se means that a dog owner is presumed to be negligent if he or she violates existing law. For example, if the owner allows the dog to roam around the neighborhood unsupervised, in violation of a leash law, in the event the dog bites and injures someone, the owner may be presumed negligent.
An intentional tort requires specific intent. Therefore, the dog owner must cause the dog to bite another person on purpose. This concept may apply in cases where the dog owner intentionally provokes or commands the dog to bite someone.
Additional Potential Liable Parties
Usually, dog owners are held legally responsible for bites and other injuries caused by their dogs. But in some circumstances, there may be another person responsible for the injuries, such as when:
• A person other than the owner who was taking care of the dog or had control over the dog
• The dog’s owner is less than 18 years old, in which case the owner’s parents may be liable
• The owner’s landlord knows that a renter had a dog on the premises that was vicious or dangerous but didn’t do anything about it