In this blog, we’re going to discuss some facets of personal injury law related to dog bite liability (mostly pertaining to Florida). In Florida, there is what’s known as “strict liability” with dog bites. When it comes to man’s best friend, some of the most fondly recalled memories include playing fetch, going for walks and watching your canine companion amuse him/herself with a dog bone. Unfortunately, these examples don’t compose the entirety of human relations with dogs. Sometimes dogs act out and severely–or fatally–injure their human victim. It’s important to know about dog bite laws, especially in Florida; be aware of the fact that the law is on your side. Section 767.04 of the Florida code deals with this area of the law, and we’re going to explain the most important pieces of the law in this blog.
Owners are responsible for their dogs! This doesn’t just mean that owners have a responsibility to clean up after their dogs and provide them with nourishment. Despite what some people might say, dogs are not “regular members of the family.” They can’t represent themselves in court, can’t sign their names, and they can’t open bank accounts–for these reasons, and many more, a dog cannot be held liable for the injuries he/she inflicts on somebody. Thus, the owner will be the one liable for the actions of the dog, regardless of whether the dog has a history of violence or if the owner had any previous knowledge of the dog’s violent predisposition. (How’s that for strict?)
The owner is responsible for the dog’s actions (translation: responsible for compensating the victim for any damages the victim incurred as a result of the dog’s actions) if the dog attacks the given victim in any public place (park, beach, road), or in any private place (restaurant, neighbor’s house, movie theater), where the victim’s presence was lawful. According to the law, a victim is lawfully present if they are in a given place by direction of any law or regulation (a policeman dutifully entering a residence) or if they are invited to a residence, either explicitly or via implication (going to a party after being invited or going to a neighbor’s party after seeing invitations posted around the neighborhood). So, generally speaking, if a burglar breaks into your house and happens to get bit by a dog, they are not covered under the abovementioned Florida law.
Are there any exceptions? Yes. There is generally no shared liability (fault of person bitten) because of this so-called “strict liability,” but if the victim is determined to have behaved in a manner that was so negligent that it superseded the dog’s attack as the direct cause of the injuries, the victim him/herself might be held liable for their own negligence, and thus their own suffering. For example if a person hits, beats or otherwise provokes a dog to bite, the person who is bitten cannot recover damages for the bite. Additionally, dog owners are not responsible for their dog’s actions on their premises if they have, prominently displayed, a sign that reads either “Bad Dog” or “Beware of Dog.” Generally, if somebody enters a domicile with such a sign posted, and if such sign is easily viewable, the person entering the house is assuming the inherent risk of being bit by the dog. (Note: even with the sign, the owner of the dog is still liable if the victim of the dog attack is under the age of 6 or if the damages are a direct result of negligence on the part of the owner.)
Can anyone else be responsible for a dog’s attack? What if the dog doesn’t have an owner? Yes, somebody else can be responsible and liable for the damages. Consider this: a daycare worker decides to let a stray into a classroom and the attacks the children and injures them. Even though the daycare worker who let the stray into the classroom is not the owner of the dog in question, the worker still clearly acted negligently and allowed for the attack to happen. In this instance, the daycare worker would be liable.
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