According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), every year in the United States, 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs. Not all of these bites require medical attention, however, dog bites can be severe. Some may even cause a person’s death. This happens most often when the victim is a child.
The first question that arises in any dog bite case is what is the owner’s liability for the dog bite? The answer to this question depends on a number of factors, but primarily it depends on the laws of the state in which you live.
Florida law provides several avenues of recovery for dog bite victims. If you or someone you love has been bitten by a dog, consult with a knowledgeable Florida personal injury attorney about the dog owner’s liability in your case.
An Owner’s Liability for Dog Bites at Common Law
Common law is law that comes from judge’s decisions in individual cases rather than statutes.
At common law, unless it could be proven that a dog owner knew or should have known of his/her animal’s vicious propensities, he was not held responsible if his or her dog bit someone. This rule came to be known as the “one bite rule.”
Essentially, at common law, a dog got “one free bite” before his or her owner would be held liable for damages caused by the animal.
Currently, most states, including Florida, have replaced the common law “one bite rule” with statutes that govern an owner’s liability for dog bites.
Statutory Law Governing an Owner’s Liability for Dog Bites in Florida
Florida’s dog bite statute supersedes the common law “one bite rule.” Florida’s statutory law imposes strict liability on a dog owner if his animal bites someone — even if the owner had absolutely no reason to suspect his/her dog would indeed bite someone.
Strict liability means that liability is imposed on a defendant regardless of his or her state of mind, intent, or fault. In the context of a dog bite, this means that if a dog bites someone, the owner will be liable —regardless of whether or not the dog ever displayed vicious tendencies and regardless of whether the owner knew or did not know that the dog might bite.
The statute is the exclusive remedy for victims of dog bites.
But there are some specific statutory requirements to consider.
First, for a dog owner to be held liable for a dog bite, the victim must be:
- in a public place, or
- lawfully on private property, including the property of the owner of the dog.
Trespassers, then, are not protected by the dog bite statute.
Next, military or police dogs performing their duties do not come within the statute’s purview.
Finally, it is important to understand that the statute applies only to dog bites. Injuries caused by a dog in any other way, for example, injuring a victim by jumping on him and knocking him down, do not come within the strict liability statute.
For these other situations, however, there can be other potential bases of liability that can be imposed on a dog owner.
Let’s take a look at some of them.
Negligence-based Grounds for an Owner’s Liability for Dog Bites
In addition to Florida’s dog bite statute, a dog owner may be held liable on negligence theories for damages caused by an animal.
Negligence (failing to act as a reasonable man would do) or negligence per se (violating a law) can both be grounds for holding a dog owner liable for injuries his dog causes.
Dog owners are responsible at all times for controlling their animals and making sure they do not hurt others. So, if it can be shown that the dog owner did or failed to do something, and that this action or failure to act proximately caused the victim’s injuries, the dog owner may be held liable for any damages caused thereby.
An example of negligence caused by failing to act, is the situation where a dog owner knows his dog has a tendency to jump up on people and yet does nothing to stop the dog from jumping up on people. If the dog owner fails to prevent the dog from jumping on a person who is then injured, the dog owner could be held liable for failing to properly restrain the dog.
An example of negligence per se is one where a dog owner disobeys a leash law and the dog bites or injures someone.
An Owner’s Liability for Dog Bites in Florida Can Include Criminal Penalties
Another more serious ground for dog owner liability is violation of the criminal law. In Florida, the owner of a dog that has been declared a “dangerous dog” can be subject to civil liability and criminal penalties.
If a dog that has been declared to be a “dangerous dog” bites someone, causing serious injury or death, the owner may be charged with a felony.
Dog Bites Are Serious Personal Injury Cases
Dog attacks, regardless of the severity of injury caused, should always be taken seriously. Owners of dogs who attack or otherwise injure others can be held civilly liable or even criminally responsible.
If you were injured by a dog, consult our dog bite lawyers to find out what your remedies are.
North Central Florida Personal Injury Attorneys
Florida accident lawyer John Fagan and his experienced team are dedicated to helping accident victims. If you have been injured due to the negligence of another, contact us now for your free consultation or simply call our firm at: 777-JOHN. We serve clients throughout Florida. Our main office is in Orange Park. We have consulting offices in Palatka, Middleburg, Keystone, Starke, Gainesville, and Ocala.