Florida Legislature Passes New Dog Bite Law

Inspired by the case of Padi, a labrador mix in Sarasota that was scheduled to be euthanized before a judge intervened, the Florida legislature unanimously passed a bill in February that would provide dog owners in severe dog bite cases more opportunity to challenge decisions to euthanize the dogs.

Florida’s Dangerous Dog Laws

Under Florida law, a Dangerous Dog is one that has aggressively bitten, attacked, or inflicted severe injury on a human, or has severely injured or killed a domestic animal on more than one occasion.

A dog will not be declared dangerous if the dog’s attack was provoked or if the dog was protecting another person from an attack.

The owner of a dog that has been declared dangerous carries special responsibilities. The dog owners must register their dogs with the state and immediately report if the dog goes missing. They must also restrain the dog at all times and post warning signs at all entry points to their property. The dog must also be tattooed or implanted with a chip to identify it as a dangerous dog.

If a dangerous dog attacks another person, the dog owner must not only pay civil fines, but may also be guilty of criminal misdemeanors and felonies depending on the severity of the injury. In addition, the dog must be confiscated, and after 10 days notice to the dog owner, euthanized.

Even if a dog had not been previously declared dangerous, if an attack results in sever injury or death to a human, the dog must be confiscated and euthanized following 10 days notice to the owner.

Padi’s Story

Padi is a labrador mix that attacked a four year old boy and his babysitter in Manatee County, biting off a part of the boy’s ear. The injury was considered severe, so Padi was confiscated and scheduled to be euthanized under Florida’s dangerous dog laws.

Padi’s owner, a veterinarian, requested a hearing to challenge the decision to euthanize Padi. He attempted to argue that Padi was provoked into the attack, but under Florida’s dangerous dog laws, such a defense could not be considered in cases where a dog causes severe injury or death and is scheduled to be euthanized.

On appeal, Sarasota Judge Andrew Owens, ruled that Florida’s statute, which essentially mandated Padi to be euthanized, was unconstitutional, saving Padi’s life.

Unfortunately, Judge Owens’s ruling was limited to Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto counties. Following a large public outcry and support for Padi’s case, Florida’s Legislature sought a legislative fix to the statute.

In January, Florida’s House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill proposing changes to the dangerous dog laws. Less than a month later, the Florida Senate also unanimously passed the bill.

Under the new law, when the owner of a dog that caused severe injury or death requests a hearing to challenge the decision to euthanize the dog, the hearing officer may consider defenses such as comparative negligence, self-defense, or defense of the owner in determining whether to euthanize the dog..