For many, pets are part of the family. However, even the most loved and domesticated animals can turn to their instinctual habits and cause unintentional injuries to others. When a dog or any other animal owned as a pet bites or attacks another, injured victims may have the right to seek compensation for their damages – including any medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering – from the animal’s owner or other responsible party. That’s due in large part to Florida’s dog bite law.
Florida’s dog bite law, outlined in the Florida Statutes (Chapter 767.04), contain important components that address a dog owners’ liability to any person that dog bites or attacks. Under Florida law, victims of dog bites may be able to pursue compensation for their damages through one of several standards of liability:
- Strict Liability – Unlike dog bite and animal attack laws in other states where owners are not held at fault for victims’ injuries unless a dog has previously bit or attacked another person prior to the incident, Florida’s dog bite law applies what it known as strict liability. This means dog owners can be held liable for any injuries caused by their pet in an attack on a victim who is in a public space or lawfully on private property, no matter if the dog has no previous history of attacking people. While strict liability may exist in most cases, there are some exceptions, such as bites or attacks against victims who were trespassing on private property, or when victims may have been provoking the dog, which may include striking the animal.
- Negligence – Dog bite victims may also have the ability to file lawsuits against dog owners on the grounds of negligence. In order to prevail in a negligence claim, victims must prove the owner breached the “duty of care” they owned the victim, which resulted in injuries and damages. This may involve as a small business owner having a dog on their property, despite the fact that the business catered to public customers to whom the property owner owed a duty of care, or when the owner knew, or should have known, the dog posed a danger to guests. Pursuing a dog bite lawsuit on the grounds of negligence may be an option for victims injured under circumstances which may not necessarily invoke strict liability. There are other strategic reasons why pursuing a claim based on negligence would be preferred. An experienced Dog Bite Attorney should know these.
- Intentional Tort – There may be some cases where dog bite victims suffer injuries because the dog owner intentionally had their dog attack the victim. Similar to claims involving intentional assaults or battery, victims injured under these circumstances may be able to recover their damages by pursuing an intentional tort.
Reduced Liability in Dog Bite Cases
While most dog bites and attacks typically allow victims to hold owners liable, Florida’s dog bite law outlines certain situations where a dog owner’s liability may be reduced or eliminated entirely. Examples include attacks where:
- Victims were unlawfully on the property;
- Victims were provoking the dog or animal in some way;
- The dog was protecting its owner or another person close by from a reasonably perceived threat or attack.
Although every case is unique, those where victims are found to have contributed in some manner to the cause of their injuries can result in dog owners’ reduced liability. Under Florida law, the dog owner’s liability in such a situation would be reduced by the calculated percentage of contributing fault / negligence of the victim. If a victim is found to be 20% at fault, for example, the dog owner would be 80% at fault.
This concept of contributory negligence provides defendants, as well as any insurance company which may represent them against a dog bite lawsuit, with the opportunity to deny and dispute liability, in part or in whole, and pay victims as little as possible. Working with experienced attorneys who know how insurance companies fight claims can be critical to leveling the playing field. Our firm strives to achieve exactly that by leveraging the insight of Founding Attorney Todd Miner, a former insurance defense lawyer with the nation’s largest insurance company.
In addition to contributory negligence, there may also be cases of reduced or eliminated liability when dog owners displayed easily visible dangerous dog warning signs on their property. However, there may be exceptions to this as well. This includes incidents where victims are young children under the age of 6, or when victims have the ability to pursue a claim on other grounds, depending on the circumstances.
After a Dog Bite
While our team at Todd Miner Law can help victims take the appropriate steps to protect their rights after a dog bite or attack, there are a few things you can do on your own to protect your health and the strength of any potential claim you may file in the future. A few simple things you can do, if you are able to do so, include:
- Seek immediate medical attention and follow your doctor’s recommendations
- Identify the owner of the animal, or any witnesses who may be able to help
- File a report with your local animal control office
- Gather additional information, including owner contact and insurance information, dog license records, and other details that may be helpful for you and your attorney
- Document your injuries, including photos of visible injuries, organized medical records, and other information about any losses caused by your injuries
Injured by a Dog or Pet? Call for a FREE Consultation: (407) 269-5877
Florida’s dog bite laws can be complex and difficult to understand. Because the individual facts and circumstances of a case can also create challenges, the need for accurate interpretation of the laws, creative solutions, and insight-driven representation become critical to ensuring victims pursue the most viable path toward the compensation they need.
If you have been injured by another’s dog or pet, or if you have a loved one who was recently bit or attacked, Todd Miner Law can provide the information you need to better understand your rights and available options. Discuss your case personally with an attorney from our firm and learn how we may be able to guide you through the journey ahead. Contact us for a FREE consultation.