Luckily for victims of dog attacks, in Florida, dog owners are generally strictly liable for injuries inflicted by their animals, as well as damage to property caused by their dogs.  §767.01, Florida Statutes, very plainly states:

“Owners of dogs shall be liable for any damage done by their dogs to a person or to any animal included in the definitions of “domestic animal” and “livestock” as provided by s. 585.01.”

In addition, the Florida Legislature passed §767.04, which states:

“The owner of any dog that bites any person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, is liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners’ knowledge of such viciousness. However, any negligence on the part of the person bitten that is a proximate cause of the biting incident reduces the liability of the owner of the dog by the percentage that the bitten person’s negligence contributed to the biting incident. A person is lawfully upon private property of such owner within the meaning of this act when the person is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him or her by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when the person is on such property upon invitation, expressed or implied, of the owner. However, the owner is not liable, except as to a person under the age of 6, or unless the damages are proximately caused by a negligent act or omission of the owner, if at the time of any such injury the owner had displayed in a prominent place on his or her premises a sign easily readable including the words “Bad Dog.” The remedy provided by this section is in addition to and cumulative with any other remedy provided by statute or common law.”

If a dog bites someone in a public place, the dog owner is strictly liable for any damage the dog causes – regardless of the owners’ knowledge or lack of knowledge of the dog’s propensity to bite.  Strict liability means that the victim does not have to prove that the dog owner was negligent.   An example of this kind of liability would be if a jogger was jogging down his street and a dog ran out of someone’s yard and bit the jogger, the owner of the dog would be responsible for the any damages suffered by the jogger – from medical bills, to lost wages, to pain and suffering.  The only defense available to the dog owner is if the dog owner can prove that the jogger was somehow negligent in his interaction with dog – for example, if the jogger somehow provoked the dog.

The law changes slightly if the dog bite occurs on private property.  Dog owners are not strictly liable on private property, as long as the dog owner has previously posted a “Bad Dog” sign somewhere on his property.  A “Bad Dog” sign does not totally absolve the dog owner, however.  The dog owner can still be held liable if the victim can show that the dog owner was somehow negligent in the handling of the dog.  For example, a dog owner would be negligent if she knew that her dog had bitten several mail carriers in the past, but still let her dog run loose on the property during time that the mail was due to arrive.

If a dog owner has actual knowledge of his dog’s dangerous propensities, the dog owner can even face criminal liability, and the dog may face permanent quarantine or worse.  See §767.13, Florida Statutes.

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