No matter their dog's regular disposition, dog owners should realize that there is always a possibility that one of their beloved companions could bite someone. Despite years of domestication, dogs are still animals that sometimes act in ways that we do not or cannot predict. This is why smart dog owners utilize leashes when their dogs are in public and keep their pets behind fences at home. With dogs, it only takes a split-second for tragedy to occur.
Perhaps you were visiting with a friend, a neighbor, or a family member and a once trusted dog got inexplicably spooked. You might have been at a dog park or just minding your own business walking down the street when a dog attacked you. No matter what the scenario was, you, or perhaps your child, were bitten by a dog and now you have medical bills, lost wages, and are in pain and suffering. If these scenarios sound familiar to you, you need to make sure that you fully understand your legal rights in state of Florida.
One Free Bite?
Generally, most state laws fall into two categories when it comes to dog bite laws. Some states are known as "one free bite" states. These states allows dogs and their owners some leniency the first time the dog bites someone as long as the dog has not been vicious in the past. In general, in "one free bite" states, a dog owner cannot be liable for the damages arising from a dog bite or attack unless the victim can prove that the dog has bitten someone before. The focus in "one free bite" states is on whether the dog owner was on notice that his or her dog had a propensity to bite or attack humans.
Florida = "Strict Liability" For Dog Bites
Florida, however, is not a “one free bite” state. Florida - like several other states - is known as more of a "strict liability" dog bite state.
Section 767.04, of the Florida Statutes states that a dog owner is legally liable for any damages caused by their dog, regardless of whether the dog owner knew the dog had attacked others.
However, dog owners are not without defenses to dog bite claims. A dog owner's exposure to money damages can be reduced if the owner can come forward with proof that the victim provoked the dog to attack, or trespassed on the dog's property (as long as a "Beware of Dog" sign was posted.)
The Statute of Limitations on dog bite cases is generally four years, but it is very rare that people wait that long to assert claims. Most of the time, dog bite injuries are very severe and usually result in an emergency room visit at the very least. It is important for dog bite victims to have their injuries cleaned and treated by medical professionals as soon as possible. Infection is a major concern. Most dog attacks leave victims with ugly wounds that almost always require stitches, sutures, or staples. Unsightly scars are common after dog bites. Dog bite victims very frequently require painful rabies or tetanus shots. Historically, many of our dog bite clients have required corrective plastic or cosmetic surgery to try to bring their appearances back to normal.
Dog bite victims should also report any attack to their local animal control agency so that the offending pet can be quarantined if necessary.
Insurance is often a challenge in dog bite cases. Many dog owners do not live in homes that they own, so many do not have liability insurance as part of a homeowner's insurance policy. In addition, many insurance companies exclude certain breeds of dogs from coverage.
If you, a family member, or a loved one has been bitten or attacked by a dog, it is critically important that you understand your legal rights. Dog bite cases can be complicated, and oftentimes involve making claims against friends or neighbors - which can sometimes be uncomfortable. The law firm of Cullen & Hemphill, PLC has over 50 years of combined experience successfully handling dog bite claims. Kim Cullen and Robert Hemphill have collected hundreds and hundreds of thousands for dollars in money damages for deserving dog bite victims - without destroying friendships or neighborly relations. Kim and Bob would be happy to discuss your potential claim with you and answer all of your questions with no obligation.