In 2017, the number of dog bite homeowners’ insurance policy claims jumped by almost 20 percent. Furthermore, mostly because of rising medical expenses and better understanding of claims, the average claim amount has risen over 70 percent since 2003.
Serious dog bite incidents usually involve major reconstructive surgery. When animals attack, they usually cause both gashing and puncture wounds. These serious injuries are particularly common among child victims. Moreover, these victims are more likely to endure flashbacks, nightmares, heightened awareness, and other Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms. Sometimes, these symptoms may persist for many years.
An Overview of Dog Bite Law in Florida
The Sunshine State has a strict liability law, albeit a rather narrow one. It only applies to bite injuries. Dog owners are liable as a matter of law for these injuries, whether or not the dog had bitten anyone before or even acted menacingly toward anyone before.
Animal attacks often involve more than just a bite. For example, many dogs knock down their victims before biting them. These knockdowns often cause head injuries, broken bones, punctured lungs, and other serious trauma injuries. So, to obtain maximum compensation, a Florida attorney uses several legal theories, such as:
- Negligence: If the tortfeasor (negligent actor) demonstrates a lack of reasonable care, the tortfeasor is usually negligent. For example, a daycare teacher who lets his students play with a stray dog is clearly negligent.
- Scienter (Knowledge): Similarly, owners have a duty to take special care if they know their animals are potentially dangerous. Relevant evidence includes not only a prior attack, but also growling, baring of teeth, or barking.
- Negligence Per Se: Most Florida municipalities have very strict leash and other restraint laws. If the owner or custodian violated such a law, and that violation substantially caused the injury, that person could be liable for damages.
As mentioned, damages in a Florida dog bite case include compensation for both economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may also be available in some cases.
Third Party Liability in Florida
Because of the serious nature of dog bite injuries, the individual tortfeasor may not have enough insurance coverage to fully compensate the victim. That’s especially true if the dog owner does not have homeowners insurance.
Fortunately, Florida has extensive third party liability laws. Landlord liability in dog bite cases is a good example. If the lease prohibited certain kinds of dogs, the landlord did nothing to get rid of a prohibited animal, and the dog attacks someone, the landlord could be liable for damages.
Insurance Company Defenses in Florida Dog Bite Cases
Provocation is one of the most common defenses. But in this context, provocation means much more than verbal teasing. It usually means that the victim imposed so much pain on the animal that it justified a violent response. Young children are usually incapable of provoking a dog as a matter of law.
The assumption of the risk defense sometimes comes up as well. Sometimes, the property owner displays a “Bad Dog” sign in the yard. If the victim sees the sign and is capable of reading and understanding it, the property owner may not be liable for any bite-related injuries which occur directly on the property.
Count On Experienced Attorneys
Dog bite victims may be entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Brandon, contact Reed & Reed. We have four area offices (St. Petersburg, Lakeland, Tampa, and Clearwater).