Dogs are beloved pets for many Floridians. Long called “man’s best friend,” dogs are most commonly known to be caring, loving, and docile. Sometimes, a dog’s behavior can turn aggressive and an individual can end up being bitten or attacked. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 4.5 million Americans are victims of dog bites each year.1 Additionally, approximately one in 5 bites result in the victim having to seek medical attention for the injury.
Under Florida law, a victim of a dog bite may be able to recover damages.2 In order to recover damages, the victim must bring forth a cause of action under a theory of either negligence, negligence per se, or scienter. If the victim is successful in demonstrating that he or she was a victim of a dog bite under one of the aforementioned theories of liability, he or she may be able to receive compensation for losses as well as potentially additional damages. These damages may include:
Pain and Suffering;
Emotional Distress; and
An owner may be liable for a dog bite under a theory of negligence even if he or she was not aware of the dog’s propensity for viciousness. This is true whether or not the victim was bitten in a public place or at the private dwelling of the owner. Under this theory, a dog owner can be negligent simply for failing to exercise effective control of a dog that would be similar to that of a reasonably prudent person. For example, an owner who leaves his dog untethered, even in his own backyard, would be considered negligent if the dog leaves the property and bites a victim.
Negligence Per Se
An owner can also be liable for a dog bite that occurs as a result of a violation of a law enacted for people’s safety. This is known as negligence per se. For example, an owner may violate Florida’s leash law while walking his or her dog in public. At that time, the dog escapes and bites a bystander that tries to pet it. Here, the owner has violated a law designed to keep others safe, and the victim may be able to bring forth a cause of action for damages as a result.
In these instances, it is important to remember that state laws are not the only applicable laws. Instead, different municipalities may enact stricter laws relating to the handling of dogs within the community. An owner’s failure to abide by these municipal codes is sufficient to establish negligence per se.
Scienter is a theory of liability that is more commonly referred to in dog-bite cases as “One Bite
Rule.” Under this theory of liability, a victim must demonstrate two elements in order to recover. The victim must show that the dog had previously bitten or attempted to bite another person as well as the fact that the dog’s owner was aware of such conduct. Failure to demonstrate both elements will bar the victim from recovering under this theory of liability. The owner may still be able to recover under a different theory.
Potential Roadblocks to a Victim’s Recovery
It is not a guarantee that an individual will recover damages as a result of being a victim of a dog bite. Many states, including Florida, have different laws that protect owners from absolute liability in dog bite cases.
One of the best-known protections for dogs owners is more commonly referred to as the “Bad Dog” exception. Florida law establishes that an owner may be exempt from liability for a dog bite if the bite occurs on the dog owner’s property and, at the time of the bite, easily readable signs warning of a dog--whether displaying, as an example, “Bad Dog” or “Beware of Dog”--are prominently displayed on the owner’s property. Such signage should have given the victim reasonable notice of the risk of the bite. This is, however, not a complete safeguard as the owner will still be deemed liable if the victim is too young to read the signage.
It is important to highlight that Florida law also establishes an ability for a victim to recover for non-bite injuries. Specifically, Florida allows for recovery of “any damages,” including to damage to livestock.3
Contact the Dolman Law Group to Discuss Your Personal Injury Case Today
A dog’s ability to become dangerous and bite at a moment’s notice should not overshadow their lovable nature. Instead, victims of dog bites and attacks should seek to recover the damages to which they are lawfully entitled. At the Dolman Law Group in St. Petersburg, Florida, we will thoroughly investigate your case to ensure you fully recover financially. Call us today at 727-222-6922 for a free consultation.
Dolman Law Group
1663 1st Ave S.
St. Petersburg, FL 33712