Most people love interacting with dogs when they come across them in a neighborhood, park, or residence. Unfortunately, not all dogs will necessarily be friendly. Some dogs will even bite or attack others without provocation. If you are the victim of a dog bite or attack, you may be wondering if the animal’s owner is liable for any injuries you sustained. Below, we review how Florida’s “strict liability” dog bite laws can help you recover compensation in these situations.
Florida is a “Strict Liability” State
Because Florida is a “strict liability” state, victims of dog attacks do not necessarily have to prove the animal’s owner acted negligently in order to collect damages. A Florida dog owner can be held legally responsible for their animal’s violent actions – even if the owner had no knowledge of the potential threat the animal posed – so long as the victim was on public property or had permission to be on private property.
In other words, if you were lawfully present in the location where the attack took place, you have the right to hold a dog owner accountable for their animal’s injury-causing behavior. Keep in mind that any type of animal attack that causes harm may warrant a personal injury claim. Bites are a common source of injury, but you could also suffer serious harm if a large dog slams into you and causes you to fall and hit the pavement or another hard surface.
Some dog attacks will occur when someone is not lawfully present on another person’s property. For example, you might be tempted to take a shortcut across your neighborhood by crossing through a backyard. If a dog bites you in that backyard, you did not have permission to be on that person’s property, so you the dog owner is not automatically liable for any resulting injuries. However, there are still circumstances where you can pursue damages.
A dog owner can still be held liable if they are negligent. Whether a dog owner acts negligently will depend heavily on the specific circumstances of the case. Many negligence claims involving dog bites will allege that owners were aware their animals had a history of aggressive or violent behavior. If it can be established that the owner had some prior knowledge that their animal had the potential to be dangerous, they can typically be held legally responsible for injuries.
Florida will also hold animal owners criminally liable if they fail to take specific steps to protect others from dogs that are known to be dangerous. Under Florida statute, a “dangerous dog” is one that has previously injured or attempted to injure another person. A dog can also be considered “dangerous” in the eyes of the law if they have aggressively attacked another animal – including another dog – more than once.
When Is an Owner Not Liable for a Dog Bite or Attack?
There are certain situations where a dog owner will not be held liable for dog bites or attacks. If someone is unlawfully on someone else’s property with the intent of committing a crime, the owner will in most cases not be held responsible for any injuries their dog causes. For example, an owner would likely not be held liable if a burglar breaks into a house and the owner’s dog attacks the intruder.
Owners are not generally responsible for dog attacks if a victim deliberately provokes the animal. For example, if someone in a public park throws sticks or rocks at an animal, the owner will likely not be liable if the dog retaliates.
Animal owners are also not typically held liable for injuries if their dog was attempting to defend them or someone else. If a mugger attempts to accost a dog owner in a park, for example, the owner will most likely not be responsible if their dog attacks the assailant.
Dog owners can often successfully avoid claims of negligence warning potential intruders of the dog’s presence. If the owner placed warning signs, erected fences, and/or used chains to restrain an aggressive or non-aggressive animal, it may be more challenging to prove negligence.
Recovering Damages in a Dog Bite Claim
If you are the victim of a dog attack in a situation where the owner can be held liable, you can likely pursue a personal injury lawsuit against the owner. You will have four years from the date of the incident to file a claim.
A successful claim can allow you to recover damages for medical expenses, missed wages, property damage, and emotional and physical pain and suffering. Our personal injury attorneys at Frohlich, Gordon & Beason, P.A. understand how premises liability cases are adjudicated in Florida and can work to secure the maximum available compensation available to you in your case.
Do not wait to explore your legal options when you have been injured in a dog attack. Schedule a free initial consultation by calling (941) 960-7225 or contacting us online.