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
Collecting Damages in Dog Bite Cases in Fort Meyers, FL
A person who has been injured by a dog bite may receive both economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include compensation for current and future medical bills, including doctor visits, medication, therapy, and rehabilitation. It may include lost wages, and other measurable financial loss incurred due to the injury. In some cases, the court may order the defendant to pay punitive damages.
Non-economic damages may include compensation for pain and suffering, emotional distress, disability or disfigurement, loss of enjoyment of life and loss of consortium. These damages vary from case to case. Some damages are subjective and, therefore, are difficult to calculate. Damages may also be subject to guidelines or capped by statute.
Possible defenses to dog bite cases
The Florida dog bite statute, section 767.04, has a unique exception, known as the “dangerous dog” rule. It provides that there is no liability under the statute if the victim is six years of age or older, the incident happens on the dog owner’s premises, and those premises contain a clear, conspicuously posted sign saying “Bad Dog,” or “Beware of Dog.” If the victim is too young to read, then the exception does not apply. This exemption to liability is intended to give a person notice of a dog’s bad temperament or tendency to attack and bite.
Under Florida law, other possible legal defenses in a dog bite case include:
- The victim was trespassing on someone else’s land
- The victim provoked the dog bite
- The victim assumed the risk
Workers’ Compensation and Dog Bite Injuries
If employees such as deliverymen, mail carriers, or other employees who are required to enter homes or private property as part of their job description are bitten, they can submit a claim for workers’ compensation benefits. The law holds that such workers have lawfully entered the premises within the scope of their employment and therefore have an “implied invitation” to be there.
They may also have a legal claim against the owner of the dog (provided it is not owned by the employer.) The claim against the owner may provide compensation for injuries such as pain and suffering and other losses not covered by workers’ compensation.
Injuries From Dog Bites
Injuries caused by dog bites can be severe and long-term. Some of the common injuries include:
- Bite marks
- Soft tissue injuries
- Cuts, bruises, and abrasions
- Permanent scarring (children often have facial scarring)
- Fractures and broken bones
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs)
- Emotional distress
In addition to the physical injury, dog bites can are a source of germs and bacteria that can make you sick. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), of the millions of dog bites in the U.S. every year, approximately one in five of the injuries becomes infected. Some of the diseases you can get from dog bites include:
- Rabies is rare, but it is one of the most serious diseases people can get from dog bites. Rabies is a transmittable viral disease that affects the brain and is almost always fatal once symptoms appear. Rabies virus is transmitted through direct contact with the saliva or nervous system tissue from an infected animal. People usually get rabies from the bite of an infected animal. It may affect wild animals, but domestic dogs cause rabies in humans in up to 99 percent of cases. The disease can be prevented by having the dog vaccinated. If you have been bitten by a dog, you should see a doctor immediately to see if treatment is required.
- Capnocytophaga bacteria live in the mouths of people, dogs, and cats. Dogs and cats are not affected by the bacteria. However, the bacteria can spread to people through bites, scratches, or even close contact with a dog or cat. Most people who come into contact with the bacteria do not become sick, but those who have a weakened immune system face a much greater risk of becoming sick because it is harder for their bodies to fight infections.
- Pasteurella multocida is a type of bacteria seen in over fifty percent of infected dog bite wounds. In addition to a painful infection from the bite, it often causes symptoms such as swollen glands, swelling in the joints, and difficulty moving. It can cause serious illness in people living with weakened immune systems.
- Tetanus is a toxin produced by a type of bacteria called Clostridium tetani. This toxin causes rigid paralysis in people is a threat when bite wounds are very deep.
- MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is a type of staph infection. Dogs and other animals can carry MRSA without showing any symptoms. However, in people, MRSA infections may spread and affect the lungs, bloodstream, heart, bones, joints, and urinary tract. The infections can become life-threatening. It is dangerous because it is highly resistant to antibiotics.
What to Do if a Dog Bit You or Your Child
Even the most docile, friendly, well-trained dog can bite. Dogs bite for many reasons. A dog may bite because it is startled, sick, frightened, or stressed. It may bite to defend itself or its territory. They bite because they feel that they are in danger, or to protect something such as their puppies or their food. Dogs frequently become excited and nip or bite while playing. Always ask permission before petting someone else’s dog. Even with permission, proceed with caution. To keep the risk of biting to a minimum, avoid:
- Approaching a strange dog
- Petting a dog without permitting it to see and sniff you first
- Letting young children play with a dog without supervision
- Running from a dog, panicking or making loud noises
- Bothering a dog that is eating, sleeping, or caring for puppies
In the stress and confusion following a dog bite, you may not know what to do. Your next steps should include:
- Get medical treatment. You should always seek medical treatment after a dog bite. Even if you believe the injury is minor, it may require stitches. There is also a risk of infection. A report of medical treatment also serves as evidence if you pursue legal action.
- Record what happened. After getting medical treatment, you should create a record of what happened. You should immediately file a bite report with the local police. A dog bite may upset or traumatize you so that you forget or confuse details of the incident. Writing down everything you recall may help later with insurance or legal claims. It is important to note where you were when the incident took place and whether the dog was restrained at the time.
- Consult an attorney. All states, including Florida, provide that a personal injury lawsuit, such as a dog bite case, must be filed within a window of time known as the statute of limitations.
If you or someone you love was injured in a dog bite incident, consult an attorney without delay. A licensed, experienced personal injury lawyer who handles dog bite cases can evaluate your dog bite claim, advise you of your legal options, and advocate on your behalf.
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About the Author of this Page: The above information was written or reviewed by one of the attorneys at Viles & Beckman LLC who have a combined experience of nearly 60 years: Marcus Viles, Michael Beckman or Maria Alaimo. The information provided in this article comes from years of experience trying legal cases outside and inside courtrooms throughout Florida along with extensive research.