Dog bite incidents are some of the most upsetting and gruesome cases that we encounter in our personal injury practice. Unfortunately, children are the most common victims of these attacks and suffer the most serious injuries. Often, these injuries could have been prevented if the owner or caretaker of the dog was more responsible. Fortunately, Florida law is punishing to the owner of a dog that caused a bite or injury. While we cannot undo the damage that a dog bite caused, our personal injury lawyers will aggressively pursue compensation against the owner and his/her insurance company for the losses incurred.
In this article, I will address many of the frequently raised issues concerning dog bites in Florida. The law is actually straightforward and dog bite are surprisingly more common than you may imagine.
What Is the Florida Law on Dog Bites?
The liability of a dog owner for a dog bite is controlled by Florida Statute 767.04. The statute is friendly to the victim in that the owner is held strictly liable for the injury. The statute provides that the owner is liable for the bite as long as the victim was in a public place or lawfully on the property of the owner.
What If the Victim Provoked the Dog Bite?
If the victim somehow contributed to or provoked the bite, the amount of the liability will be reduced accordingly. For example, you were walking through your neighbor’s house, stepped on their dog’s tail by accident and it bit you. In this situation, you may have been comparatively negligent by not watching where you were going. Thus, the number of damages you can recover will be reduced. I also see this circumstance in situations where a child teases a dog with food. While rare, if a child pretends to give a dog food repeatedly and pulls it away, and then the dog bites, there is an argument that the child was partially at fault. I also have run into cases where people sit on dogs on couches and are bit in response. Like in the previous examples, the number of damages can be reduced for the carelessness of not looking where one was sitting.
What Is the Florida Law on Bad Dog Signs?
Under Florida Statute 767.04, if the owner had an easily readable sign in a prominent place that used the words “bad dog,” there is no liability. There are two caveats to this law, however. First, the owner can still be liable if the dog bit was proximately caused by his or her negligent act or omission. Second, this protection about the bad dog sign does not apply if the victim of the bite was under the age of 6.
What If the Owner Did Not Know the Dog Was Dangerous?
Florida Statute 767.04 imposes liability on the owner of the dog regardless of whether the owner knew the dog was dangerous or not. For example, if the owner had recently adopted the dog from a shelter and did not know that it was violent, the owner is still liable for the injuries that were caused. Now, if the owner knew that the dog was violent and had bitten others in the past, there may be the ability to pursue punitive damages for the disregard of the safety of others.
What Types of Damages Can I Recover in a Dog Bite Claim?
The damages in dog bite cases include compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, future medical treatment, any disfigurement, and any psychological impacts. Many children who have been bitten by a dog need some form of counseling after the incident. Further, most dog bites leave a scar. The location of the scar and the severity of it determines its value. Scars to the face or in noticeable locations carry great value.
How Do I Collect Money After a Dog Bite?
In most circumstances, we pursue the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. As long as there aren’t any exclusions for dogs or animals on the policy, there should be a recovery. If the dog owner did not have insurance, you may have a tougher time recovering for the losses. Unless the dog owner is a person of financial means, it is very difficult to pursue damages in Florida against someone who is uninsured. A dog bite lawyer will be able to run an asset report to look for assets to pursue and advise you about the chances for success. However, generally speaking, Florida is a state where is very difficult to collect judgments due to the protections given the debtors. For example, a person’s home is protected by homestead and you cannot force someone to sell it to pay your damages even if it is a mansion!
Steps to Take Immediately After a Dog Bite:
If you or you child has been bitten by a dog, get the medical treatment you need immediately. After the urgent medical care has been provided, contact the police or animal control to report the incident. Even though you may not want your neighbor, relative or friend’s dog to be impounded, some report of what happened is very important to establish your claim. Remember, the insurance company will need some verification of the incident and there is nothing better than a formal report from the authorities to squash any dispute of the details of what happened.
Dog Bite Lawyer
If you or your child has been the victim of a dog bite, I recommend that you speak to an experienced dog bite lawyer immediately. A dog bite lawyer will know what notices to send and what evidence to try and preserve in the days following the incident. Because so many of the dog bite cases involve friends and neighbors, they are normally not well documented at the beginning stages. It is the dog bite lawyer’s job to clean up the mess, remove personal tension and hostility from the situation and handle the claim professionally. It is always a shame when families and friends are involved in a dog bite incident, but with professional and honest lawyers, the situation can be handled in a manner where there are no ongoing hard feelings. If you have been involved in a dog bite or other animal-related incident involving injuries, please contact our office for a free consultation.