If you’re a dog owner, it is important to know the dog bite laws to protect yourself and your dog from liability. If you’ve been bitten, it is important to know what your rights are in the aftermath of a dog attack.
Florida’s Strict Liability Dog Bite Laws
The most important thing to know about Florida’s laws is that when it comes to dog bites, Florida is a strict liability state. What this means is that a dog owner is always liable if:
- the dog bites another person;
- and the person who was bitten was in a public place or lawfully in a private place.
The injured person does not have to prove that the dog owner knew that the dog was likely to bite or failed to take reasonable care in preventing a bite.
For a dog owner being sued for a dog bite, there are essentially only four ways to avoid liability:
- Trespasser defense
- Comparative negligence
- Warning Signs
- Statute of limitations
According to the statute, the dog owner is only strictly liable for a dog bite if the bitten person was lawfully on private property. This means that trespassers who are bitten by dogs are not entitled to recover damages.
Another possible defense is to argue comparative negligence on the part of the injured person. How this generally works is that the dog owner will argue the injured person provoked the dog and was therefore partially or wholly responsible for being bitten. This is only a partial defense, in that the dog owner’s liability will be reduced by the percentage the injured person was at fault.
A dog owner can generally avoid liability under the strict liability dog bite law if he had posted an easily readable sign that says “bad dog” or “beware of dog” on his property. The sign isn’t an automatic way to avoid liability though, and a judge will still review all the facts surrounding an incident to determine liability. The warning sign is also irrelevant if the injured person is less than six years old.
The last way a dog owner can avoid liability is based on a procedural rule called the statute of limitations. By law, victims of a dog bite injury have four years from the date of the incident to file a law suit. Failure to file a lawsuit within this four year period will result in the case being dismissed when it is filed.
Traditional Negligence Claims
The strict liability laws apply only to dog bite injury cases. For example, if your injury was sustained from falling while running away from an aggressive dog, the dog owner is not strictly liable under the dog bite statute. However, an injured person may still bring traditional negligence claims against a dog owner for such an injury.
In a traditional negligence claim, the injured person must prove that the dog owner failed to take reasonable steps to prevent the attack.
There is also a claim called negligence per se. In this type of claim, proving that the dog owner violated a statute or an ordinance, such as a law that requires dogs to be leashed in public places, will be sufficient to establish that the dog owner acted negligently..