Dogs make great pets. They can be your best friend, or they can be a watchdog for your home. Owning a dog comes with a great deal of responsibility and commitment. They need food and shelter. They need comfort and they need exercise. Dogs also need training. It is not just about house training, they also require training and socialization to be around other dogs and people.
No matter how big or small a dog is, or even what type of breed they are, there is always the possibility that they can bite someone or another animal. Not everyone is aware of what happens when a dog does bite someone or some other animal, and many are unaware of the laws surrounding a dog bite and who is responsible for the damages that the dog bite causes. There is the question of if a person needs a lawyer if they are bitten by a dog. The answers to this question depend on a number of different things.
“One Bite” Dog Bite Law
Prior to the evolution of modern dog bite laws, a dog owner was only held liable if his dog bit someone and they had reason to believe the dog might bite. This allowed a seemingly non-dangerous dog “one free bite.” One example would be if the dog displayed aggressive or vicious tendencies in the past and the owner did not take proper precautions in social situations. Another example is if a dog had suffered injury or undergone surgery and the owner did not warn a house guest not to pet the dog. The house guest then could unknowingly aggravate the dog’s injured area and could be bitten due to the dog protecting its injury. In recent times, most states have rejected or modified the “One Bite” Law.
Strict Liability Dog Bite Laws
The idea behind strict liability statute states that any dog owner who has a dog that has bitten someone is responsible for any damages, regardless if they could have done anything to prevent the bite from happening. Even with the strict liability rules, there are often exceptions. A few of these exceptions are:
- The victim was a trespasser
- The victim was committing a crime against the owner of the dog
- The victim was physically abusing or provoking the dog
- The dog was assisting the military or police
Dog Bite Laws in Florida
Dog bite laws vary greatly from state to state and have enacted different laws regarding the liability for dog bites. Some states say that if the dog is a dangerous breed, their owner is responsible for any damages even if the dog has never bitten anyone in the past. There are also states where a strict liability rule is in place. That means an owner is responsible for the damages from a dog bite no matter what the breed or history of the dog is.
Florida is a “Strict Liability” Dog Bite State
In Florida, a dog owner may be held responsible if his dog bites someone, even if they did not have any prior warning or knowledge that their dog may bite. The burden of defense falls on the owner of the dog, the injured person does not have to prove any lack of reasonable care that caused the bite. A dog owner in Florida has two defenses:
- Trespassing — The victim must have had permission to “lawfully” be on the property at the time the incident took place. If the victim was trespassing on private property, the dog owner could argue that the victim is not entitled to collect damages.
- Comparative Negligence — If the dog bite injury occurred in part by the victim’s own negligence, the amount of damages an owner must pay could be reduced by the percentage of blame to the injured person.
If you’re not located in Florida, don’t assume your state follows the “usual” exceptions to liability. If you’re a dog owner, check with the laws established in your state to be sure the specifics are understood.
Dangerous Dog Laws in Florida
Florida law spells out what a dangerous dog is. A dog can be declared dangerous if:
- They have attacked, injured or caused significant injury to a human being,
- If they have killed or injured a domestic animal on more than one occasion.
- If, without provocation, they have approached a person on public property in a menacing or threatening fashion.
Exceptions to this can apply to dogs that did these things while protecting or defending a person in the vicinity, or if the person they do these to is not lawfully on the property.
Owners of a dangerous dog need to register them with the state, keep them confined indoors or in a secure confinement area outside. When the dog is not in confined spaces, they must be restrained with a leash and muzzle and under the control of a person. The dangerous dog also needs a tattoo or implanted electronic device for identification.
Owners of a dangerous dog face a fine of up to $500 if they fail to follow the laws. If the dangerous dog attacks a person, the owner is subject to a $1,000 fine. If the dog severely injures or kills a person, the penalties include up to a $5,000 fine and imprisonment for up to 5 years.
What to Do When a Dog Bites
It is important for a dog owner to understand the laws about dog bites, but it is also important for everyone to know what to do in the event of a dog bite. If you get caught up in an unfortunate situation such as this, be sure to get information from the person that owns the dog. This can include their name and phone number, along with their address. You should also take pictures of the wounds the bite causes, the area where the bite took place and anything that you believe contributed to the incident. If you seek medical treatment, get copies of all medical records and bills that come from the dog bite.
When to Contact a Lawyer
If the dog bite happens on personal property, insurance will often cover the claims from the incident. Though insurance can help the injured person recover damages, remember, the insurance company will try to pay as little as possible and may try to avoid paying a claim at all.
A lawyer can help the victim of a dog bite recover damages that include:
- Medical bills
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Punitive damages
Those that have been injured by a dog bite do not have to try to and recover compensation from the dog owner one their own. Here at Harrell & Harrell, we will work hard for our clients who suffer from a traumatic event such as this, getting them the compensation they deserve to get their life back on track. Call us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation today with one of our dog bite attorneys.