As Florida’s population continues its upward climb, the number of pets accompanying people will undoubtedly rise, too. And, with the rise of pets comes an increase in dog bites. Since attacks of this magnitude are treated either as premises liabilities or personal injuries, many call to question just how difficult these cases are to adjudicate. While there’s no clear-cut answer, we’ll go through the process of fighting for compensation from dog bite injuries to provide clarity as to what’s involved with Florida’s dog bite statute and claims against owners.
First, Your Incident
Whether walking down the sidewalk, or attending friendly social gatherings at friends’ homes, dogs don’t usually pick when or why they attack; sometimes they just don’t feel comfortable around certain people, or may be reactive to certain scents. Nonetheless, you were attacked without provocation, and need immediate ambulatory care.
If you’re wondering whether the animal owner is culpable for their dog’s angry outburst, the short answer is yes. You have probably spent the time since getting bitten evaluating what legal recourse may be available, but more importantly, how much of these medical bills will be covered by insurance.
Although the dog may have free will, if it is capable and likely of causing damage or harm to any individual then it is up to the owner to control it and remove it from situations where incidents, such as biting, can occur.
Next, the Medical Bills and Loss of Income
Much like other personal injuries, dog bites will leave victims without gainful employment throughout the duration of their recovery. Months if not years of physical therapy could ensue. With no income, many cannot pay healthcare bills and everyday living expenses.
How much victims can collect, if anything, depends on what losses are incurred, and the likelihood the claim is payable. Stipulations may apply.
Laws and Potential Defenses to Dog Attacks
Florida has adopted strict liability dog bite laws that make pet owners liable for their pets’ actions, regardless if the owner knew an attack was imminent or it happened by complete surprise. FLSA 767.04 makes dog owners liable if the victim is on one’s premises, and is indeed bit.
But pet owners are afforded defenses to claims, much like any personal injury accident. For one, was the dog antagonized to the point of aggression? Was the person who was bit lawfully on the premises, or did they break in? These are two primary defenses.
Upon successful application of either pet owner defenses, an element of comparative negligence may occur which could lessen the amount victims receive. Victims who, for example, accidentally step on the dog’s tail, or knock over their food bowl, could be partially responsible for their own injuries.
In determining victim compensation where victims had some responsibility, amount of total dog owner liability reduce by the percentage of the victim’s negligence. So, if the jury awarded $5,000 for the attack but the victim was 40 percent liable, they would get $3,000 ($5,000 – 40 percent, which is $2,000).
Florida statute dictates that victims have four (4) years from the incident to file civil suit, although its unlikely victims would wait much longer than their recovery to file.
Who Dogs Attack Most in Florida
The Florida Health Department collects data and offers dog bite prevention tips useful to new and experienced pet owners. According to data, 600 people go to the hospital and two people die annually from dog attacks statewide. Children under nine, specifically boys, are at highest risk of having an injury.
In nearly all available data, one constant remains unchanged: temperament is the strongest factor in how dogs react to people.
What to Do If Bitten
To reiterate, dog bites are serious and may lead to homeowner liabilities into the thousands of dollars. You need to take certain steps should you wish to have an ironclad case in court:
- Immediately call for ambulatory care or head to the emergency room, and phone police, even if you feel the bite isn’t significant. Rabid or otherwise sick dogs can cause complications even with the smallest bite. If animal control is prudent, law enforcement will phone them on your behalf.
- Avoid hostility. Scream for help if necessary, but don’t become aggressive toward the pet owner, as this may trigger unwarranted violence.
- Make sure to note the dog owner’s address and contact information. Getting the pet owner’s information if away from home is vital.
- Contact an experienced Florida dog bite attorney, who can guide you through the civil suit process and answer any questions that arise.
Unless uninsured, renters’ and homeowners’ insurance policies cover premises liabilities claims like dog bites. This is usually why they won’t grant some policies if the breed of dog is highly aggressive by nature.
You Have Entitlement to Compensation If Bitten
Homeowners may intimidate you into taking a few hundred bucks in exchange for silence. Even worse, some pet owners may threaten legal action against you.
Make no mistake – persons injured have entitlement to compensation for injuries by no fault of their own. Never accept offers from dog owners when injured as they’ll probably be significantly less than your case is worth.
If you’ll be away from work and require extensive medical treatment, it’s worth fighting for every penny.
Trial attorneys at Burnetti, P.A understand Florida dog bite laws. If victimized by another’s dog, and want to pursue legal action, contact our office today.