What Everyone Should Know About Dog Bites

Do you have a dog?  If so, whether your dog is calm and friendly – or vicious and dangerous – you may be responsible if it bites anyone.

Clear Cut Cases

If your dog bites someone in a public place you are liable if personal injury is caused.  The same applies for most cases where a dog bites someone on its owner’s property.  The owner of the dog is almost certainly liable for any damages caused by a dog bite in this situation.  In fact, the State of Florida is considered a “strict liability” state when it comes to dog bites.  This means that a dog owner is expected to protect others from their dog even if that dog has no history of aggression. Florida statute 767.04 specifically states that if a dog bites someone that the owner is liable “regardless of the former viciousness of the dog” and regardless of the “owner’s knowledge of such viciousness”.

In other words, it is not a viable dog bite defense in Florida, to claim that your dog has never shown aggression before.

Shared Liability

There is one partial exception to Florida’s strict liability law regarding dog bites in public places.  People who are “negligent” or who taunt or agitate a dog to the point that the dog bites them are partially liable for the damage caused to themselves.  The law states that, in these cases, the bitten person is a “proximate cause” of their own injury and would have to share liability with the dog owner based on their percentage of involvement.  For example, if a person negligently caused a dog to bite them, a court may decide that they are 50% liable for their own injury.  However, this does not mean that the injured person needs to pay anything; payment is still made by the dog’s owner.  In the example above, the owner will most likely need to pay 50% for the injured person’s medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering which can all add up to a reasonable sum.  Therefore, if you are a dog owner, it’s important to be aware that you would be the liable party, to at least some extent, even if your dog is goaded or taunted into biting someone.

Exceptional Cases

Florida statute 767.04 provides for additional exceptions to the strict liability law regarding personal injury caused by dog bites.  The most common exception is that of a break-in to your property.  If someone is unlawfully on your property, and you have posted a sign stating prominently the words “BAD DOG”,  the trespassers may be bitten by your dog without you being liable.

Similarly, Florida law provides for cases where a dog bites in defense of property, its owners, other humans and other animals.  Such cases usually include a police investigation into assault, robbery, burglary or similar crimes which may have prompted the dog to attack in defense.

” ‘Strict Liability’ … it is not a viable dog bite defense in Florida, to claim that your dog has never shown aggression before.”

However, it is important to be aware of the detailed nature of dog bite law in Florida.  Trespassers under 6 years of age are presumed not to be able to read the “BAD DOG” sign and therefore a dog owner will be liable for personal injury caused by dog bites to a young child that wandered onto their property. Postmen, law enforcement and accredited document servers working in their official capacity are exempt in most cases as well.

Dangerous Dogs

In any of the cases above, a dog that is known to have an attacking disposition may be labelled a “dangerous dog”.  If you are the owner of such a dog it is important to understand your rights and obligations.  Dangerous dogs may be confiscated during any investigations into personal injury to a human or other domestic animal caused by the dog.  If found to be a dangerous dog, there may be penalties and future restrictions placed on the owner.  In some cases (eg wrongful death or severe injury) a dangerous dog may be ordered to be destroyed.  In more extreme cases, the owner may be held criminally liable.

The Importance of Legal Representation

Dog bite cases are serious matters that involve potentially life-changing injuries, the temporary or permanent loss of a pet, the chance of significant financial loss and even potential criminal liability.  If you are the victim of a dog bite, your personal injuries may cause medical expenses, lost work days and significant pain and suffering.  In many cases, dog bite injuries include local law enforcement investigations. Whether you are the dog owner or the bitten person in a dog bite case, it is essential that you hire an experienced personal injury attorney who can interpret the nuances of the law and represent you with confidence in the pre-trial and, if necessary, trial portions of your case.

If you have been recently bitten by a dog, it is important that you discuss taking legal action immediately.  Call South Florida Law on (954) 900-8885 and remember that you only pay us if we win your case!

Jared Newman, Esq. is a seasoned attorney at South Florida Law, with an emphasis in Personal Injury Law. He received his Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology from the University of Florida. Mr. Newman attended and received his Juris Doctorate from the South Houston College of Law.

Mr. Newman understands insurance companies tactics and has the experience to counter them. This background allows South Florida law to fight smart against Big Insurance. If necessary, we are prepared to meet insurance companies in court and recover the compensation you deserve.