Who is Responsible for a Dog Bite in Florida?
Dogs have long been a popular choice when it comes to choosing a pet. Recent statistics show that there are approximately 78 million dogs owned as pets in the United States. The popularity of dogs is likely due to the fact that there are multiple breeds to choose from, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Dogs can also be very faithful companions, which is why they are commonly called “Man’s Best Friend.”
But what happens when man’s best friend is not so friendly? There have been countless news stories in recent years about dogs attacking people. These attacks often cause serious injuries, and can even result in death. Depending on the situation, there may be a legal avenue available to recover for dog bite injuries.
Florida’s Dog Bite Law
In Florida, when a dog bites someone who is on public property, or if they are on private property with the owner’s permission, they can pursue a claim against the dog’s owner for any injuries they sustained. Florida Statute 767.04 provides that an owner is strictly liable for any injuries caused by their animal. The term “strictly liable” means that the dog bite victim will not need to show that the owner was in any way negligent to recover. The mere fact that a dog bit someone is sufficient to establish liability. This is true regardless if the dog has no prior history of attacks.
Although Florida’s dog bite law governs only a dog “owner’s” liability, the statute defines “owner” as more than just the actual owner of the dog. Florida statute 767.11(7) defines “owner” for purposes of this strict liability statute as “any person, firm, corporation, or organization possessing, harboring, keeping, or having control or custody of an animal.” Because of the statute’s expanded definition of “owner”, it is important in a dog bite case to have a Riverview Personal Injury Attorney review your case to determine who may be liable for your injuries.
Can a Dog Owner Avoid Paying for All of My Damages in a Florida Dog Bite Case?
Even though the law holds an owner strictly liable for dog attacks, this does not mean that the owner will automatically be 100% responsible for your damages. There are still defenses that an owner can rely on to reduce their percentage of fault for your damages, or even avoid liability all together.
For example, if the owner can show that you were not lawfully on the property (a trespasser) at the time of the attack, then Florida’s strict liability rules will not apply. In addition, strict liability will not apply if, prior to the attack, the dog’s owner had posted an easily readable sign in a prominent place stating “Bad Dog.” If such a warning was posted, then the owner can only be held liable if their negligence somehow caused or contributed to the dog’s attack on the victim. For example, the owner failed to maintain his/her fencing, allowed the dog to run free, or other similar negligent conduct.
Another consideration in Florida dog bite cases is the issue of comparative fault. Comparative fault is when the victim’s conduct is looked at to determine whether he/she was partially responsible for the dog’s attack. For example, if a dog attacked someone after they had been taunting the dog, it is likely that a jury will determine that the victim was partially at fault for his/her own injuries. If this occurs, then the dog owner’s liability is reduced according to the victim’s percentage of fault.
Does Homeowner’s Insurance Provide Coverage for a Florida Dog Bite?
To determine whether a particular insurance policy will provide coverage for a Florida dog bite, the policy must be carefully reviewed to see if there are any applicable exclusions. Unfortunately, because dog attacks have become a more common occurrence in recent years, insurance companies now routinely include an exclusion in their policies for injuries caused by animals. If you are a victim of a dog bite, what this means is that if such an exclusion exists, the insurance company will not pay for your injuries. The only option then is to go after the dog owner personally which, in most cases, will not result in any actual payment to you even if you are successful.
If you have been a victim of a dog bite, it is important to the have an experienced Riverview Personal Injury Attorney review all applicable insurance policies to see if insurance exists to cover your injuries.
If you have questions about your Florida accident case, you can download our Free Reports:
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