Pursuing Legal Action After a Dog Bite
The Center For Disease Control (CDC) reports that approximately 4.7 million dog bites occur in the United States each year. This doesn’t necessarily mean man’s best friend is turning his back on us; dogs most often bite when they’re stressed, scared, startled, to protect themselves or their owners, or accidentally during play. However, because it’s estimated that 1 in 69 people will be bit in their lifetime (with less than 20% of these bites requiring medical attention), it’s important to understand the laws regarding dog bites.
Dog Bite Laws in Florida
Florida’s dog bite statute (FLSA 767.04) states that dog owners are liable when their dog bites another person in a public place or lawfully in a private place. While some states require that dog-bite victims prove the owners negligence, or prove that the owner knew the dog was dangerous due to a previous incident (often called the “one-bite rule”), Florida does not. The Sunshine State adheres to the "strict liability" principle regarding dog bites. This means that Florida dog owners are almost always held liable for dog-bite injuries. The rationale for this is that dog owners should be responsible for any damage their animal it causes, regardless of the circumstance. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule and there are instances when dog owners can fight back.
Dog Bite Defenses in Florida
Despite being a strict liability state, Florida dog owners have two legitimate defenses against a dog bite claim.
- Trespassing. Florida requires that the injured party be lawfully in the place where the bite occurred to recover damages. If the victim was on another person’s property without permission, the dog owner can claim they were trespassing and not entitled to damages.
- Comparative negligence. Sometimes, despite what strict liability says, it’s just not the dog’s fault (or at least, not just the dog’s fault). Comparative negligence reduces damages to the dog owner by assigning a percentage of the blame to the injured party. For example, if a child pulls a dog’s tail while visiting a neighbor and gets nipped in return. In court, a jury may find that the child (or his or her parents) were 60% responsible for not keeping an eye on their little one, while the dog owner was only 40% responsible. This significantly reduces the amount the dog owner would be liable to pay in damages.
Also, it’s worth noting that while police dogs, or K-9 units, are not privately owned animals, they are often protected from lawsuits. But not always; K-9s have been known to get “the wrong man,” or have been proven to use excessive force, resulting in a city payout.
Dog Bite Lawsuit Deadlines
While most people make a dog bite claim shortly following the injury, it’s important to know that the statue of limitation for dog bites in Florida civil court is four years. If you miss the four-year mark, your case will be thrown out before it’s ever heard.
Dog Bites By the Numbers
Whether more dog bites are being reported or the severity of bites is growing, statistics show there has been almost a 10% increase in claims and an over 110% increase in the value of claims since 2003. While Illinois may have one of the largest dog bite settlements in history ($1.125 million awarded to a teen who was attacked by 120-pound Bullmastiff, requiring extensive plastic surgery), Florida recently recorded the highest amount per dog bite insurance claim in the country, with an average of $38,400 per claim. That’s 146 payments totaling $5.6 million.
Dogs will always be man’s best friend; they’re our eyes when we can’t see and our emotional support when we’re hurting; they’ve rescued us from perilous situations, and work alongside us whether it’s rounding up criminals or sheep. But, dogs are ultimately still animals, and animals can be unpredictable so it’s best to always use caution (read more about “being mindful, not fearful” in this story chock-full of dog bite statistics and information).