Every year approximately 600 Florida residents are hospitalized due to injuries arising from dog bites, according to the state Department of Health. Children under the age of six and boys between the ages of 6 and 14 are the most frequent victim of dog bites. But a dog bite is a serious matter no matter the age or sex of the victim.
“Strict Liability” and Comparative Negligence
Florida has a “strict liability” law when it comes to dog bites. This means an owner is legally liable if their dog bites another person, provided the victim is in a public place or lawfully in a private place. For example, if the owner takes the dog for a walk on a public street and the dog bites someone, the owner is responsible. Similarly, if your neighbor’s dog runs into your yard and bites you, your neighbor is liable, as you were legally on your own property. However, if a dog bites a person who is illegally trespassing on private property, the animal’s owner is not liable.
A dog owner’s liability is “strict” in that it is not conditioned on any prior knowledge of the animal’s propensity to bite people. Some states have a “one bite” rule that holds an owner harmless unless the dog has previously bitten someone, thereby putting the owner on notice of their animal’s “viciousness.” Florida law expressly states that no prior record or awareness of a dog’s viciousness is required to impose liability: A dog owner is liable for the first bite.
That said, a dog owner’s liability may be reduced if there is evidence that the victim’s “negligence” contributed to the biting incident. This is known as “comparative negligence.” A judge or jury may decide that the victim bears a certain percentage of the blame, which will reduce the owner’s liability accordingly.
For example, suppose the victim accidentally steps on the dog’s tail. The dog instinctively reacts by biting the victim’s leg. A jury determines the victim is entitled to $1,000 in damages but she is also 20 percent liable for the accident. In that event, the dog owner will only owe the victim $800 in damages.
Get Compensation For Your Dog Bite Injuries
Two other things to keep in mind with respect to dog bites. First, Florida law has a four-year statute of limitations for any claim arising from a dog bite. This means the victim must file his or her lawsuit within four years of the date of the dog bite. Florida courts strictly enforce these deadlines.
Second, the law discussed above only relates to injuries arising from dog bites. A dog owner is separately responsible for any other type of damage done to “persons, domestic animals, or livestock” by their animal. The owner may also be liable under common law principles of negligence for failure to exercise “ordinary care” in controlling an animal.
If you or a family member have been injured due to a dog bite, you may be entitled to compensation. Contact the Law Office of Paul B. Genet, P.A., at (727) 538-8865 to speak with an experienced Clearwater dog bite and animal attack attorney.