Dog bites can result in serious physical and emotional injuries. If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog in Florida, it's important to understand your rights and the state's laws related to dog bite liability. As a personal injury law firm, we're here to guide you through this process and ensure that you receive the compensation you're entitled to.
Florida is a "strict liability" state when it comes to dog bites. This means that a dog owner is liable for injuries caused by their dog biting someone, regardless of whether the dog has been aggressive in the past or whether the owner was aware of any potential danger.
This is in contrast to the "one bite" rule adopted in some states, where an owner is typically not held responsible for the first incident of biting, provided they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. In Florida, however, even a first bite can result in liability for the dog owner.
While Florida’s dog bite law generally places responsibility on the dog owner, there are some circumstances where liability may be reduced or where others may share responsibility:
If the bitten person's negligent actions contributed to the biting incident, their recoverable damages might be reduced. For example, if they were provoking the dog or trespassing on the owner’s property, the court could decide that they bear some responsibility for the incident.
If a dog has been officially classified as dangerous and the owner has met the state’s requirements for owning such a dog (like securing the dog in a proper enclosure and displaying warning signs), the owner might not be fully liable for bites that occur when someone unlawfully enters the enclosure or property.
Dog bites can range in severity from minor injuries to serious, life-threatening conditions. The severity can depend on a variety of factors, including the size and breed of the dog, the location and number of bites, and the individual's health status. Here are some types of injuries that can be caused by a dog bite:
These might include small puncture wounds or scratches. While they may not require extensive treatment, they should still be cleaned properly to avoid infection.
Some dog bites can cause serious cuts and wounds, potentially leading to significant blood loss or damage to muscles, tendons, nerves, or bones.
A dog's mouth can harbor bacteria, and a bite can introduce these bacteria into the body, leading to infection. Left untreated, an infection can spread and become severe.
Deep or multiple dog bites may cause significant scarring or disfigurement, sometimes requiring reconstructive surgery. This can be particularly severe in cases where the dog bite is on a visible part of the body, such as the face.
A dog bite, particularly a severe one, can cause significant psychological trauma, including anxiety, fear, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Although rare, there is a risk that a dog bite could transmit rabies if the dog was infected with the disease. Rabies is a severe and often fatal condition if not treated promptly.
Large dogs can cause crush injuries or even fractures with their jaws. This can result in damage to bones, muscles, and soft tissue.
While rare, there have been cases where a dog attack was so severe that it resulted in the death of the victim. This is more common with larger, more aggressive breeds, and in situations where the victim is unable to escape or defend themselves, such as small children or the elderly.
Given the potential severity of dog bite injuries, it's always advisable to seek medical attention following a dog bite, even if the injury initially appears minor.
In Florida, the law holds dog owners strictly liable for injuries their dogs cause, regardless of whether the owner had reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is different from some states which have a "one-bite" rule that only holds owners liable if they knew or had reason to know their dog might bite. However, there are several defenses and exceptions to this rule under Florida law.
If a person provokes a dog, such as by teasing or harassing it, and the dog bites as a result, the owner may not be held fully liable for the dog bite. This is an affirmative defense that must be proven by the defendant.
Florida law generally does not hold dog owners liable for bites that occur when someone is unlawfully on their property. This could mean a burglar or trespasser who gets bitten would have a hard time recovering damages from the owner of the dog.
Florida has a "Bad Dog" exception. If a dog owner has prominently displayed on their property a sign that includes the words "Bad Dog" and the victim is over 6 years old, the owner might not be liable unless the damages are caused by a negligent act or the owner knew of the dog's dangerous propensities.
Florida uses a pure comparative negligence rule for personal injury cases, including dog bite claims. This means if the injured person was partially at fault for causing the injury, their damages award can be reduced by a percentage that is equal to their share of fault. For example, if a person is found to be 20% at fault for their injuries because they ignored a "Bad Dog" sign, their damages could be reduced by 20%.
Florida law provides a specific exception for bites inflicted by police or military dogs performing their duties. If a dog bites someone while assisting in a criminal investigation, executing a warrant, or defending a person from a perceived threat, the owner (usually a government agency) is not liable.
Dog bite victims can claim several types of damages, depending on the specifics of the case and the jurisdiction. Here are some of the common categories of damages:
This includes all costs related to medical treatment such as emergency room visits, surgeries, medication, physical therapy, psychological counseling, and any necessary future medical treatment.
If a victim has to miss work due to the injury, they can claim compensation for lost wages. If the injury impacts their ability to work in the future, they may also be eligible to claim lost future earning capacity.
This is compensation for the physical pain and emotional distress suffered as a result of the attack. This can also include compensation for any fear, anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from the incident.
If the dog bite results in scarring, disfigurement, or permanent disability, additional compensation may be awarded. This may also include the cost of any plastic surgery needed to minimize scarring.
If the injuries significantly impact the victim's relationship with their spouse, they may be entitled to damages for loss of consortium.
If any personal property (like clothing or jewelry) was damaged in the attack, the victim may be compensated for the value of those items.
These are awarded in cases where the dog owner's conduct was particularly reckless or malicious. Punitive damages are designed to punish the defendant and deter similar behavior in the future.
Understanding liability in dog bite cases can be complex. If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog, it's crucial to seek legal guidance promptly. As experienced personal injury lawyers in Florida, we are well-versed in dog bite laws and can help you navigate the legal process, working to secure the compensation you deserve. Contact us today.
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