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Irresponsible Dog Owners May Face Homicide Charges if Their Dog Kills Someone

November 23rd, 2009 2 comments

Florida Homicide Charges for Deadly Dog Attacks

Most dog owners keep dogs for companionship and try to be responsible about making sure their dogs are safe for other people to be around.  Under Florida dog bite law, if one’s dog bites or attacks someone, the dog owner may face civil liability and the dog may be designated as a “dangerous dog” for which the dog owner must make special arrangements.

Florida Dog Owners Could Face Homicide Charges for Deadly Dog Attacks

Florida Dog Owners Could Face Homicide Charges for Deadly Dog Attacks

Furthermore, there is a range of criminal liability the dog owner may face under certain circumstances if the dog injures someone.  In the most egregious cases, when the very worst happens and the dog kills someone, the dog owner may be charged with homicide.

The Robert Freeman Case

The Robert Freeman case is one of the more disturbing examples of a dog owner showing more than just a reckless disregard for the behavior of his dogs.

Robert Freeman lived in a mobile home in Citra, Florida, with six pit bull mix dogs.  His home was in a state of disrepair, with no electricity or water, and a hole in the front door where the door knob should have been.  He would tie off the door with electrical cord, but it still had a lot of “give” when pushed.  Neighbors would see Freeman’s dogs outside every day, and the dogs did not stay confined to Freeman’s property.

In January 2003, Charlie Sumpter was walking near Freeman’s property when the dogs charged from under Freeman’s mobile home and attacked, biting him numerous times.  Freeman came outside and pulled the dogs off Sumpter.  He became angry when Sumpter said he was going to seek medical attention for the bites.

In April 2003, Charlie Dennison was attacked on the street by three of Freeman’s dogs.  He was bitten on the calves, but managed to fight the dogs off.  Freeman came outside and said he thought the dogs were inside the house.

In September 2003, Jamal Williams was walking his dachshund on the street in front of Freeman’s home when six of Freeman’s dogs appeared and attacked the dachshund.  Williams tried to beat the dogs off with a stick, but they continued attacking.  Ultimately, the dogs stopped attacking and Williams took the dachshund to a veterinarian.  The next day, Freeman was angry because Williams’ grandmother reported the attack to animal control authorities.

In another incident in September 2003, Lorenzo Colding was attacked by six of Freeman’s dogs as he walked down the street near Freeman’s home.  All six dogs bit Colding.  Freeman came outside and called off the dogs.

In October 2003, Andrew Williams was walking near Freeman’s home when Freeman’s dogs came from Freeman’s yard and attacked him.  The dogs bit Williams several times before Freeman came outside and called them off.

In November 2003, Willy Clinton was walking on the street when Freeman’s dogs ran through Freeman’s front door and surrounded Clinton in a pack, threatening to attack.  Clinton was bitten on the thigh.  After 15 or 20 minutes, Freeman came outside and began petting and kissing his dogs.  Clinton admonished Freeman for “rewarding” the dogs for biting people and warned him that the dogs would eventually kill someone.

Just weeks later, on December 12, 2003, Freeman made a call to 911 stating he had just returned home from work to find his neighbor, Alice Broom, “almost dead” with a hole in her neck and the dogs still biting her.  Freeman told the 911 operator to call the “dog people” and admitted he should have gotten rid of the dogs long ago.

When paramedics arrived, they found Ms. Broom lying unconscious on the ground in the fetal position.  Half her clothes were strewn around the yard.  She had suffered massive bite wounds and was pronounced dead at the hospital.  The medical examiner found that the locations of some of her injuries were consistent with an attempt to curl up and try to defend herself against the attacks.  A forensic odontologist concluded that all six of Freeman’s dogs had attacked Ms. Broom.

Freeman was charged with, and ultimately convicted of, manslaughter by culpable negligence under Florida Statute § 782.07.

Manslaughter Charge for a Deadly Dog Attack

Freeman argued that he should have been charged with a second-degree misdemeanor under Florida’s Dangerous Dog Act instead of being charged under the homicide statute.  The appeals court disagreed.  The Dangerous Dog Act requires knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities and a reckless disregard for those propensities under the circumstances.

Manslaughter by culpable negligence, by contrast, requires more than knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities.  The manslaughter statute requires knowledge that the dog owner’s negligent act or omission is “likely to cause death or great bodily injury.”

If the dog owner knew that his dog had approached a person in a menacing fashion, the owner might have knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities, but not necessarily knowledge that his failure to keep the dog contained would be likely to cause death or great bodily injury, as is required for manslaughter.

In Robert Freeman’s case, the court concluded:

There was ample evidence that Freeman knew his dogs had escaped from his trailer and attacked passersby on several prior occasions. Yet on the day of Ms. Broom’s death, Freeman went to work, leaving his dogs free to escape and attack passersby, as they had done many times in the recent past.

Robert Freeman is currently serving more than 12 years in Florida State Prison.

Although this case is extreme, it should serve as a warning that Florida dog owners who know their dogs might kill, but who do not take steps to safeguard others, could face homicide charges if the dogs do kill someone.

Additional Resources:  How to Hire an Attorney, Florida’s Wrongful Death Act

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 or criminal defense attorney in your local area.

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What Does It Mean if a Dog is Certified as Dangerous Under Florida Law?

November 20th, 2009 No comments

Florida Dog Bite Law

If Florida animal control authority receives a report of a dog that may be dangerous, the authority will conduct an investigation into whether the dog should be officially classified as a “dangerous dog” under Florida’s dog bite laws.  If the dog is classified as dangerous, it must be kept under certain restrictions.

How Does a Dog Get Classified as Dangerous Under Florida Dog Bite Law?

A dog may be classified as dangerous if it:

  • Has aggressively bitten, attacked, endangered or inflicted severe injury on a human being on public or private property.
  • Has severely injured or killed a domestic animal on more than one occasion while off the owner’s property.
  • Has been used primarily or in part for dog fighting or is trained for dog fighting.
  • Without being provoked, the dog has chased or approached a person on public property in a “menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack.”
Dogs Declared "Dangerous" will be Placed Under Restrictions

Dogs Declared "Dangerous" will be Placed Under Restrictions

Will My Dog Be Taken Away from Me if it Bites Someone?

The animal control authority will investigate any reports that a dog may be dangerous.  The dog may be taken away from the owner and impounded if it bites or attacks someone.  If the dog is not impounded by the authority, the owner must keep the dog in a securely fenced or enclosed area pending the outcome of the investigation.  During the investigation, the dog’s owner may not relocate or transfer the ownership of the dog.

The dog owner will have a right to appeal any initial or final determination classifying the dog as dangerous.

What Must the Dog Owner Do About the Dangerous Dog?

Under Florida dog bite law, once the dog is designated as dangerous, it must be registered as such with the authority.  Additionally, the dog must be kept within a secure enclosure on which are posted clearly visible warning signs at all entry points that warn both adults and children that there is a dangerous dog on the property.  The dog must also be given a permanent identification, such as a tattoo or an electronic implant, identifying the dog as a certified dangerous dog.

If a dog has been designated as dangerous, it will be unlawful for the dog’s owner to permit the dog to be outside the enclosure unless the dog is muzzled and restrained by a “substantial chain or leash” and under the control of a competent person over 18 years of age.

Dogs that have been classified as dangerous may not be used for hunting.

Consequences of Violating the Restrictions Placed on Dangerous Dogs

Any dog owner who violates any of the restrictions placed on dangerous dogs may be charged with a noncriminal infraction and fined up to $500.  Moreover, if the dog bites someone, depending on the circumstances, the owner may be charged with a crime.  In the worst cases, the dog owner may face a homicide charge if someone dies from a dog attack.  Furthermore, in the event of a civil lawsuit, such a violation will only strengthen the victim’s case against the dog owner.

What if Someone was Trying to Hurt Me or My Dog?

What if Someone was Trying to Hurt Me or My Dog?

What if the Dog is Protecting the Owner?

A dog will not be declared “dangerous” under the law if the person who is bitten by the dog was trespassing on the owner’s property or was tormenting, abusing or assaulting the dog or the dog’s owner or family member.  Further, no dog will be declared dangerous if the dog was protecting someone in the dog’s immediate vicinity from an unjustified attack or assault.

Source:  Chapter 767, Florida Statutes (2009).

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.

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

November 20th, 2009 50 comments

Under Florida dog bite law, a dog owner whose dog bites someone may be sued in civil court by the dog bite victim.  The dog owner may also face criminal charges under Florida law, up to and including homicide in the worst cases.  Under some circumstances, the dog may have to be destroyed.

What Happens Under Florida Law When a Dog Bites Someone?

What Happens Under Florida Law When a Dog Bites Someone?

The Florida Dangerous Dog Act

Florida’s Dangerous Dog Act provides that if a dog that has not been declared “dangerous” by the animal control authority attacks and causes severe injury or death to a human, the dog will be confiscated by the authority and impounded or quarantined.  If the dog’s owner had prior knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities, but demonstrated reckless disregard under the circumstances, the owner may be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to 60 days imprisonment.

If a dog that has already been classified as a dangerous dog attacks or bites a person or a domestic animal without provocation, the dog’s owner faces a first-degree misdemeanor charge.  A first-degree misdemeanor is punishable by up to one year in prison.

If a dog that has previously been classified as a dangerous dog attacks and causes severe injury or death to a human, the owner faces a third-degree felony charge.  Such a charge carries a potential sentence of five years in prison.

In Extreme Cases, the Dog’s Owner May be Charged with Manslaughter

If a dog kills a human and if the owner has demonstrated a high level of disregard for human life, the State of Florida may charge the dog’s owner with manslaughter by culpable negligence, regardless of whether or not the dog was ever classified a dangerous dog under the law.  Manslaughter by culpable negligence is a second-degree felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Will a Dangerous Dog be Euthanized?

When a dog attacks or bites someone in Florida, the dog will be immediately confiscated by the animal control authorities and will either be placed in quarantine, if appropriate, or impounded.  The dog’s owner will be provided with written notification of the dog’s quarantine or impounding and the dog will be held for 10 business days to give the owner time to file a written appeal.  If the owner does not appeal, the dog will be humanely destroyed.

If the owner files an appeal, the dog may not be destroyed while the appeal is pending.  The dog’s owner will be responsible for all boarding costs and other fees necessary to keep the dog during the appeal procedure.  If the owner loses the appeal, the dog may be destroyed.

What If My Dog Bit Someone While Protecting Me?

What If My Dog Bit Someone While Protecting Me?

What if the Dog is Protecting the Owner?

If the dog attacks or bites someone who is committing a crime or attempting to commit a crime at the time of the attack, the owner will not be guilty of any crime.

It is also important to note that a dog will not be declared dangerous under Florida law in the first place if the person who is bitten by the dog was trespassing on the owner’s property or was tormenting, abusing or assaulting the dog or the dog’s owner or family member.  Further, no dog will be declared dangerous if the dog was protecting or defending a human within the immediate vicinity of the dog from an unjustified attack or assault.

Additional Sources:  § 775.082, Florida Statutes (2009); Freeman v. State, 969 So. 2d 473 (Fla. 5th DCA 2007).

Additional Resources:  Homeowner Insurance for Dog Bites, How to Hire an Attorney

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.

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Homeowner Insurance for Dog Bites

November 17th, 2009 16 comments

All Dog Owners Need Insurance That Covers Dog Bites

All Dog Owners Need Homeowner Insurance for Dog Bites

All Dog Owners Need Homeowner Insurance for Dog Bites

No matter what breed of dog one owns and no matter how well-trained the dog, all dog owners should give serious thought to making sure they have sufficient homeowner insurance to cover dog bites or other injury caused by their dogs.

According to attorney Kenneth Phillips, a recognized authority on dog bite law, almost five million people in the United States are bitten by dogs every year, with children being the victims of the most serious attacks.  The annual losses from dog bites amount to a staggering $1 billion.  “These losses do not have to be borne by the dog owners and victims, because insurance is available to pay for it,” says Phillips.

Recommended Homeowner Insurance Coverage for Dog Bites

Phillips recommends homeowner insurance or renter’s insurance that provides coverage for, and does not exclude, injuries inflicted by dogs or animals in general with a limit of at least $100,000 for personal liability.  This amount provides for an appropriate amount of compensation for all but the most severe injuries caused by dogs.

Because dogs often end up biting people the homeowner cares about the most, such as relatives, friends, neighbors, and particularly children, Phillips suggests that dog owners may want to have a limit as high as $1 million through either their homeowner or renter’s policy, or through a so-called umbrella policy.  (An umbrella policy supplements the homeowner’s or renter’s insurance coverage and pays claims over and above the existing policy, up to the limit purchased.)

Don’t Assume Your Homeowner Insurance Policy Covers Dog Bites

Phillips cautions that insurance companies often try to sell homeowner insurance policies that exclude dog-inflicted injuries.  Additionally, there are companies that refuse to sell homeowner insurance to people who own certain dog breeds that have reputations for being “dangerous.”  According to insure.com, such breeds include:

Some Insurers Refuse to Sell Homeowner Insurance to Owners of Certain "Dangerous" Breeds

Some Insurers Refuse to Sell Homeowner Insurance to Owners of Certain "Dangerous" Breeds

  • Pit Bulls
  • Rottweilers
  • Chow chows
  • German shepherds
  • Siberian huskies
  • Alaskan malamutes
  • Doberman pinschers
  • Presa Canario bulldogs
  • Great Danes
  • Boxers
  • Akitas
  • Wolf-hybrids

However, Michigan and Pennsylvania outlaw the denial of coverage simply because a home has a particular breed of dog, and other states are considering similar legislation.  Nevertheless, some companies simply exclude certain reputedly dangerous breeds from coverage.

Phillips notes that insurers are also “quietly revising homeowner policies that protected dog owners when they originally bought those policies.”  He recommends that dog owners pay careful attention to all notices they receive from their insurers to see if coverage for dog-inflicted injury has been eliminated.

The bottom line is that no dog owner should purchase a homeowner insurance or renter’s policy that excludes coverage for dog bites or other injury caused by dogs unless he or she purchases a supplemental policy.  Dog owners should check their existing policies to determine whether they contain exclusions or limitations for dog bites.

Talk it over with your insurance agent to ensure you have sufficient coverage in the event the unthinkable happens, and if your current policy either does not cover dog bites, or does not provide enough coverage, consider obtaining a supplemental policy.

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