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Florida Dog Bite Law: Civil Liability for Dog Bite Injuries

October 9th, 2009 20 comments

What Happens if My Dog Bites Someone?

No dog owner wants to be on the receiving end of a summons to a dog bite lawsuit.  But dog bites can and do happen, so every dog owner would be wise to be familiar with the dog bite laws in his or her state.

Florida Dog Bite Law:  What Happens if My Dog Bites Someone?

Florida Dog Bite Law: What Happens if My Dog Bites Someone?

Florida’s Dog Bite Law: The Owner is Liable for Dog Bites

In Florida, the owner of any dog that bites someone who is lawfully either in a public place or on the owner’s property is potentially liable for the dog bite victim’s injuries.  This is true regardless of whether the dog has shown any dangerous propensities in the past.  It is also irrelevant that the dog’s owner either knew of did not know the dog had ever acted in a vicious manner.

In other words, when it comes to civil liability, dog bite lawyers will tell you that the old saying “every dog is entitled to one free bite” is not true.  The dog owner cannot escape liability for a dog bite by arguing that the dog has never acted in a vicious manner before, or by claiming that the owner had no idea the dog might act in a vicious manner.

Who is the “Owner” of the Dog?

Florida law defines the owner of the dog to include any person or company that possesses, keeps or has custody or control of the dog.  Presumably, this means that anyone who has control or custody of the dog could potentially be liable for the dog bite, including boarding kennels and dog groomers.  If a dog is owned by a person under the age of 18, the minor’s parent or guardian will be considered the “owner” of the dog for liability purposes.

What if the Dog Bite Victim is Negligent?

Under Florida’s dog bite law, if the dog bite victim was negligent, and if the negligence caused them to be bitten, that will be taken into consideration in any damages award.  For example, if the victim is determined to have been 25% responsible for the dog bite through his or her own negligence, the damage award will be reduced by 25%.  This is called comparative negligence.

What Defenses Does the Dog Owner Have?

In addition to comparative negligence, the dog owner may raise the defense of assumption of the risk.  Under Florida’s dog bite law, the owner is not liable for a dog bite on his or her property so long as the owner has displayed on the premises an easily readable sign that includes the words “Bad Dog.”  The warning sign need only be “easily readable.”  This does not mean that the owner is responsible for posting a sign that every potential dog bite victim can read.  The owner is not responsible for the dog bite victim’s illiteracy or inability to read and comprehend English.

There are a couple of exceptions to this rule.  First, the “Bad Dog” warning sign does not apply to children under the age of six years.  A child that young is not expected to read and understand the warning sign.  Second, the warning sign will not help if the dog owner’s negligence or intentional act has caused the dog to bite someone.

What if the Dog Injures Someone Without Biting Them?

Dogs can cause damage that does not necessarily involve biting a person.  They can injure someone by jumping on them, for example, or can cause injury to other animals.  Florida law holds dog owners responsible for any damage the dog does to any person or other animal, including domesticated animals and livestock.

What Happens to the Dog?

Under Florida law, a dog that has bitten someone may end up being classified as a “dangerous dog” for which the owner must take special precautions.  Under some circumstances, the dog may have to be destroyed.  Additionally, the dog owner may face criminal sanctions under Florida’s Dangerous Dog Act.   If the dog kills someone and the dog owner knew the dog was likely to do so, the dog owner may even be charged with homicide.

Disclaimer:  This article is in no way intended as legal advice.  For help with specific legal issues surrounding Florida’s dog bite law, or the dog bite laws in your jurisdiction, please contact a dog bite attorney in your local area.

Sources:  §§ 767.01, 767.04, 767.11(7), Fla. Stat. (2009); Registe v. Porter, 557 So. 2d 214 (Fla. 2d DCA 1990).

Additional Resources:  Homeowner Insurance for Dog BitesHow to Hire an Attorney, Personal Injury Law

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