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Understand Florida’s Unique Dog Bite Laws

Categories:Law in Florida

It’s no secret that Americans love their dogs. As of 2012, approximately 78.2 million pet dogs resided in United States homes. Of those, approximately 11.15 million lived in Florida, according to the Florida Bar Journal. It’s certainly no wonder why: dogs can bring their owners happiness, companionship, and services. They can help lift their owners out of depression. They can alert owners to danger. Dogs are a man’s best friend.

A best friend to one man, however, may be an enemy to another. When dogs bite or maul others, the resulting injuries can be devastating and lifelong.

In 2012, about 500 Floridians suffered dog bites severe enough to require hospitalization, and two Florida residents died, according to the Florida Bar Journal. Nationwide, experts estimate that dogs bite more than 4.7 million people annually, with children accounting for approximately 50-72 percent of their victims. Coming in at second, the elderly account for approximately 20 percent of cases.

Proving a dog bite case in Florida is usually easier than most personal injury claims. In most injury cases, the plaintiff must prove that their damages were a result of the Defendant’s negligence. Here in Florida, however, strict liability controls dog bite cases: the dog’s owner can be liable for their dog’s actions—regardless of fault or intent—if their dog bites a person who is lawfully on the owner’s property or if the victim and dog are in a public place.

Exceptions to this rule exist, however. Comparative negligence may mitigate the owner’s liability under strict liability. Comparative negligence exists if the victim played a part in provoking the animal or helping cause the injury. The victim’s actions must have been reckless or intentional, however, and this exception does not apply to children under the age of 6. Comparative negligence acts to reduce the amount of damages the victim receives proportionate to the amount of fault the victim is assigned.

Additionally, the “bad dog” exception may potentially eliminate a dog owner’s liability. If the owner has a clear, easily readable sign stating “beware of dog” or “bad dog,” and the incident occurs on the owner’s property (and the victim is over the age of 6)

Dog bite cases may also be proven under several other different theories:

First, negligence: Plaintiffs in dog bite cases can recover if the owner did not use a level of care that a reasonable and prudent person would use.

Negligence per se: A dog bite plaintiff can recover damages if it can be proven that the owner violated a statute or ordinance designed to ensure public safety.

Scienter, commonly known as the “one bite rule”: recovery is possible if the dog in question has a history of biting or biting attempts. Using this theory, even persons other than the dog’s owner may be liable if they knew about the dog’s history.

Intentional Tort: dog bite plaintiffs could allege an intentional tort such as battery, if it can be proven that the owner intended for the dog’s actions to make contact with the victim.

If you or your child has been the victim of a dog bite, call Brooks Law Group today. We can address your claim and determine whether you are entitled to any compensation.

Sources: Florida Bar Journal, Ch. 767, Florida statutes (2015)

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