The American Veterinary Medical Association reports that the US has approximately 85 million dogs. However, millions of people suffer from dog bite injuries yearly.
In 2021, dog-related injuries cost insurers an estimated $882 million in liability claims. More than 600 Floridians are hospitalized yearly due to dog attacks.
Dog bite victims may recover compensation for their injuries under various laws. But personal injury victims must prove that another’s conduct directly caused their losses.
There are four approaches a dog bite victim may take to recover damages. These are negligence, negligence per se, scienter, and intentional torts.
In negligence claims, a dog owner is liable if they breached their duty of care and their dog caused harm to others. In negligence per se, the owner is responsible if they disobeyed regulations or statutes and endangered the public’s safety.
Scienter claims, or the “one-bite rule,” imposes liability on dog owners aware of their attack history or tendency to be vicious. For intentional torts, the owner is liable for the incident if they intended for the dog bite accident to happen.
Suppose you or your loved one suffered dog bite injuries in Florida. In that case, you may contact a personal injury lawyer to help you out. Law firms offer free consultations to review victims’ claims and discuss the best legal approach.
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Florida’s Dog Bite Laws
Florida statutes establish dog owners to be responsible for any damages their dog causes to other people, animals, or livestock.
Local governments within Florida are encouraged to adopt additional ordinances to address dog attacks. They can enact rules if no regulations are specific to the breed, provided they do not contradict state laws. These generally impose restrictions and other requirements on dog owners to address safety and welfare concerns.
Strict liability rule
Florida is a strict liability state, so they do not allow defenses anchored on the one-bite rule. Dog owners are liable for dog-biting accidents even if they are unaware of their dog’s aggressive tendencies. The law restricts this liability to incidents in a public place or visitors who are lawfully on private property.
Dangerous dog statute
Florida’s dog bite statute has a particular clause on dangerous dogs. Under this clause, the state defines dangerous dogs based on the following circumstances as evidenced by official records:
- It has aggressively attacked or caused severe injury to a person.
- It inflicted serious injury or killed another domestic animal away from the owner’s property.
- Its owner used it for dog fighting.
If the state assigns a dog as dangerous, its owner must follow specific steps to prevent further safety issues. It includes the following:
- Register the dog as dangerous with a local animal control agency
- Obtain a surety bond or a liability insurance policy worth at least $100,000 to cover damages due to dog attacks
- Confine the dog in a safe enclosure and post a warning sign notifying others of the dog’s dangerous status.
- Muzzle the dog when outdoors or outside of an enclosure.
If dog owners fail to obey these conditions, they may be subject to penalties such as fines or imprisonment. They may also be subject to criminal penalties if their dog inflicts injury or wrongful death.
How To Prove Owner’s Liability in Dog Bite Cases
Proving a dog owner’s liability in a dog attack can be challenging. However, with careful preparation and diligence throughout the process, dog bite victims can successfully present their injury claims. Here are steps you may take to help with your dog bite case:
- Gather evidence: Obtain essential evidence related to the dog bite injury. It includes official reports, testimonials, and documentation that support your claim.
- Identify the dog’s owner: To do this step, contact your local animal control agency or police station or browse public records.
- Determine applicable laws: Know which ordinances in your area can help impose responsibility on the dog’s owner.
- Prove negligence and causation: Show investigators how the owner was negligent during the incident. It may include scenarios such as failing to restrain their dog or warn others of its vicious tendencies. In addition, you must prove that these acts directly caused your dog bite injuries.
- Establish damages: Provide strong evidence that details the losses you incurred from the incident. It may entail medical and employment records, etc.
In negligence cases, the claimant must prove there was a breach in the duty of care that led to an injury. The owner is responsible for preventing the dog from inflicting harm on others. Failing to act as reasonable people would have in similar situations breaches that duty.
There are four elements to establish negligence in dog bite injury claims:
- The dog owner owed a legal duty to the victim.
- The dog owner breached that duty.
- The victim suffered an injury.
- The dog owner’s breach of duty directly caused the injury.
An insurance company or a court can determine the dog owner to be negligent in various situations. Some scenarios include allowing an unleashed dog in public places or encouraging it to attack others.
Presenting strong evidence in dog bite injury claims is crucial for several reasons. First, it helps establish liability for the pet owner. It may be challenging to prove that the owner’s negligence caused your injuries without proper evidence.
Second, it determines the value of damages the insurance company or the court should allow you to recover. Providing official records that detail your expenses or losses will concretize what the liable party must reimburse.
Third, it gives you leverage when negotiating a fair settlement with the dog owner’s insurance provider. Generally, insurance companies are reluctant to provide considerable payouts. Presenting documentation can help you and your lawyer negotiate for maximum compensation.
Different types of evidence that can support your claim include the following:
- Official local agency report: It can be a police report or documentation from your local animal control agency. Their records contain relevant information that can pose a liability to the dog owner for your injuries.
- Photographs: Take pictures of the dog that inflicted your injuries. You may also keep photos of your injuries, regardless of whether it’s minor or not.
- Videos: Secure any video footage of the incident like those from CCTVs. Videos can be very persuasive to a jury.
- Witness testimonials: Suppose another person was present during the dog attack. It is advisable to request their contact information. If permitted, you can also record their statements about the incident.
- Medical bills and records: Keep your medical records and other proof of medical treatment or rehabilitation. These reports will establish how severe your injuries are and how much you spent concerning the accident.
- Employment records: If the accident caused you to lose income or wages, it is best to save documents from your employer to prove it. It includes benefits or incentives you could not claim while recovering from the dog bite injury.
Defenses Used in Dog Bite Lawsuits
In Florida dog bite lawsuits, it is possible for the dog owner and the dog bite victim to share liability for the incident.
The state utilizes a tort principle called comparative negligence. Under this rule, the court can adjust the amount of damages a personal injury victim may recover in a negligence-based claim.
There are two types of comparative negligence rules, pure and modified. Most states follow modified comparative negligence rules.
This principle allows the court to cap the maximum percentage of fault a victim may commit. This rule allows victims tor claim damages if their fault is under the 50 or 51 percent bar. They may not get compensation for their losses if they exceed the bar.
Florida is a pure comparative negligence state. Under pure comparative rules, the victim may recover compensation in an accident, regardless of their contribution.
For instance, suppose the court assigned 40 percent of the liability to the dog bite victim. Then they may still receive 60 percent of the damages from their negligence claim.
Florida dog owners are generally liable for dog bite injuries. However, some circumstances may absolve them of responsibility in part or whole.
The owner may claim that the dog bite victim was on their property unlawfully when the biting incident occurred. If this is the case, the dog owner may have had no responsibility to protect the victim from their dog. Florida requires victims to be in a public place or legally on the owner’s property to to file a dog bite claim successfully.
Suppose the victim provoked the dog in any way. Then it justifies the dog’s actions toward the dog bite victim. For instance, if the victim teased or tormented the dog, then the victim is liable for their injuries.
Other scenarios that justify a dog’s aggressiveness include pulling its tail or disturbing them repeatedly. However, the dog owner must prove that this incident occurred for the court to accept this defense.
Suppose the dog bit a human to defend its owner or someone at the accident scene. Then its owner should not be liable for any injuries the dog inflicted.
However, this defense depends on other elements of the case. The court must consider factors such as the threat’s severity to the owner, the dog’s attack history, etc.
Apart from these defenses, Florida’s strict liability law provides exceptions to its dog owners. It includes the usage of a “Bad Dog” or “Beware of Dog” sign on their property.
Suppose the dog owner posted a warning sign about an aggressive or dangerous animal on their property. However, the victim still entered willingly, even with prior knowledge of the risk. Then the court may prohibit the dog bite victim from recovering damages for their injuries.
This exception only applies to dog bite cases with victims over six years old.
Damages You May Recover From a Florida Dog Bite Claim
After filing a dog bite claim in Florida, you may recover compensation for your injuries. Generally, personal injury cases allow victims to pursue three types of damages: economic, non-economic, and punitive.
Economic damages include the following:
- Medical bills: Suppose you sought medical attention for tetanus after a dog bite incident. Then the liable party may reimburse your medical expenses. It includes emergency care, medical treatment, surgery, hospitalization, and rehabilitation.
- Lost income: If you missed work days while recovering from your injuries, you might recover the lost wages. In addition, if you cannot return to work, it may also cover any future lost wages and incentives.
Non-economic damages cover the following injuries:
- Pain and suffering: If the dog bite victim suffered from post-traumatic stress or mental anguish, they might receive compensation for their emotional pain.
- Scarring and disfigurement: Suppose the dog attack inflicted severe scarring and disfigurement on the hands, face, or other visible body parts. Then they may receive compensation for these injuries.
The court may sometimes choose to award punitive damages to the injury victim. This type of compensation serves as punishment for the dog owner’s behavior. Usually, the court only awards punitive damages if they determine the defendant’s act to be intentional or willful.
Did you know?
In Florida, 86 percent of dog bite accidents involving children under six were caused by dogs familiar to their families. More than half of these accidents occurred in their home.
Contact a Reliable Dog Bite Lawyer in Florida
However, it can be a smooth process if you know what you need to support a claim. However, it can be a smooth process if you know what to look for and what to present to investigators. Remember to diligently track documentation and prepare for any defenses the dog owner may use in court.
Seeking legal representation from a personal injury attorney can expedite your claims process. They are knowledgeable in legal matters and experienced in negotiating with insurance companies.
The Personal Injury Center has a vast network of lawyers specializing in dog bite cases. You can book a brief case review, and we will connect you with a competent dog bite attorney in Florida.
Let a personal injury lawyer assist with your dog bite injury claim. Contact The Personal Injury Center to find a lawyer for you.
FAQs on Dog Bite Lawsuits in Florida
Can a landlord be held responsible for a biting accident in Florida?
Yes, landlords can be liable for biting accidents if the situation satisfies three conditions:
- They have prior knowledge of the dog's aggressive behavior.
- The landlord controls the property and enforces lease provisions.
- The landlord does not take measures to protect others from dangerous animals.
What happens if the dog owner is uninsured or cannot pay for damages?
You may hold the dog owner personally liable for their injuries. In this situation, the at-fault party must pay for damages from their pocket or through their assets. It includes savings, properties, etc.
You may also involve other parties who were negligent during the incident. Suppose the dog owner rents the property where the incident occurred. In that case, you may name the landlord as a defendant in your dog bite injury claim.
In such cases, consulting with your dog bite lawyer before negotiating with other parties is essential.
How soon should I file a dog bite claim in Florida?
Generally, dog bite victims must file personal injury claims in Florida within four years of the accident.