Dog Owners Are Responsible for Dog Bite and Other Injuries
In Florida, a dog does not get a free bite as the owner is strictly liable under the law. To get help with your dog bite case, call us for a free consultation with a Lakeland dog bite attorney.
We can help you with where to go for medical treatment, how to pay for that treatment, and ultimately how to collect from the dog owner or other responsible party.
A dog bite can cause a serious puncture wound that results in a significant infection and when the bite is to a sensitive area such as the face, significant tissue loss and significant scarring can result.
Dog Bite Law In Florida
Florida’s dog bite statute can be found in section 767.04, Florida Statutes as below:
The owner of any dog that bites any person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, is liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners’ knowledge of such viciousness. However, any negligence on the part of the person bitten that is a proximate cause of the biting incident reduces the liability of the owner of the dog by the percentage that the bitten person’s negligence contributed to the biting incident.
No Free Bite in Florida
The part about “regardless of former viciousness” is what makes the owner legally responsible for the dog’s first bite. Therefore, it is not a defense that the owner didn’t know that the dog could bite.
The caveat to all of this is that the dog owner does get to introduce evidence “any negligence” on behalf of the person bitten.
This usually means that the person bitten was trying to pick up the dog and caused the dog to bite but it can also mean that the person bitten did something to provoke the dog.
Dog bite cases frequently involve people who know each other but not always.
Bites Often Case Serious Scarring to Children
Dog bite cases also frequently involve young children who cannot appreciate the danger that a neighbor’s dog can present. Every year, there are a number of young children who are mauled by dogs who are petting them or otherwise getting close to them but don’t know how to touch the animal.
It is tragic to see a young child whose face is scarred for life due to a severe bite. These are cases where the dog owner usually feels terrible about the incident but the dog owner’s insurance company wants to try their hand on the provocation defense in front of a jury.
In those cases, you need an experienced dog bite attorney to show that the defense is nothing more than a ruse because the dog owner should have provided a warning or not allowed children to get so close to the dog in the first place.
The dog owner’s sometimes defend their dog’s behavior as well. While all of God’s creatures deserve a life on this planet, there is no such thing as a “sweet” German Shepherd when it comes to a young child who has been bitten or mauled.
Strict Liability for Damage by Dogs
Legal liability for dogs does not stop at bites. Florida has a “damage by dogs” statute in section 767.01, Florida Statutes. The statute reads:
Owners of dogs shall be liable for any damage done by their dogs to a person or to any animal…
“Damage by dogs” includes causing an injury even if there is not a bite. For instance, if a large Great Dane that weighs 150-200 lbs knocks a person over causing them to fall and break their arm or hip, then the owner is also held strictly liable just as a dog bite.
There are also some factually unique cases such as one where a child was walking along a chain-link fence. In that case, the dog charged and scared the child into the road where he was struck and killed by a car. Under such unique and compelling circumstances, a jury may be allowed to decide a “damage by dogs” case.
Landlords May Be Liable For Dangerous Dogs Owned By Tenants
In Florida, a landlord may be held legally responsible for dog bites from dogs owned by tenants. The case of White v. Whitworth, 509 So. 2d 378 (Fla. 4th DCA 1987), a child was injured by a pit bull owned by the landlord’s daughter.
The dog was kept in one of the apartments owned by the landlord. Further, there was evidence that the landlord had “actual knowledge” of the dog’s dangerous nature. The Court said that the landlord had a duty to make the premises “reasonably safe” for the other tenants on the property as it was “reasonably foreseeable” that they could be injured by such a dangerous dog.
The elements that you should look for in holding a landlord responsible for an injury to third parties on rental property in Florida are:
- the landlord is aware of the aggressive or vicious demeanor of the dog (dog living on the premises)
- the landlord maintains control over the property and has the right to enforce lease provisions
- the landlord failed to take reasonable steps to protect third parties from the dangerous animal
A prime example of how a landlord can be held legally responsible for a dog attack on a rental property exists in Ramirez v. M.L. Management Co., Inc., 920 So. 2d 36 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005), where a landlord failed to enforce a rule prohibiting tenants from having pit bulls on the premises.
In that case, the landlord knew a tenant was keeping a pit bull on the rental property but failed to evict the tenant for noncompliance with the lease agreement. Thereafter, the dog attacked a child on a neighboring property and the landlord was held legally responsible.
Fight Back With a Dog Bite Attorney
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury due to a dog mauling in Polk County, Florida including Lakeland, Winter Haven, Bartow, Haines City, you should talk to a dog bite lawyer to see if you can get justice and compensation for your injury.