In 2017, U.S. homeowners insurance companies paid more than $700 million in dog bite claims. That amount has increased 90 percent since 2003.
Animal attacks cause significant physical and emotional injuries. The knockdown often causes head injuries and broken bones. Then, the bite wound usually causes both deep puncture wounds and severe tearing wounds. Furthermore, many dog bite victims must endure Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms for many months after the incident.
To obtain compensation for these injuries, Brandon personal injury attorneys typically use one of the legal theories outlined below. Different fact patterns call for different approaches.
Strict Liability Law
Florida has a limited strict liability law. Owners are liable for bite injuries whether or not they knew the dog was potentially dangerous.
Strict liability claims are usually easy to prove in court. Generally, the victim/plaintiff need not establish negligence, knowledge of hazard, or anything else other than causation. As a result, these claims are easy for jurors to understand. They simply must apply the law to the facts, and jurors are very good at that exercise.
The big negative about the strict liability law is its limitation to bites only. If the knockdown injured the victim/plaintiff, an alternative theory is probably a better idea. Additionally, it’s hard to tie pain and suffering and other noneconomic losses specifically to the bite.
This Latin word means “knowledge.” Under this theory, which is basically an extension of the common-law one-bite rule, victim/plaintiffs must prove that the owner or custodian knew the animal was potentially dangerous. Evidence of knowledge includes:
- Recent attacks against people or other animals, and
- Menacing behavior, such as aggressive barking or growling, immediately before the attack.
Generally, the victim/plaintiff must prove actual knowledge of reasonable danger. In other words, the defendant must have seen the dog misbehave. Additionally, not every bark or sudden move is threatening.
On the plus side, scienter damages are often higher than strict liability damages. If the owner or custodian essentially ignored a known risk, many jurors consider that behavior worse than allowing the dog to slip off the leash for a moment.
Negligence is a lack of ordinary care. Typically, people have a duty of reasonable care. They must watch their animals and restrain them when necessary. If the owner or custodian’s behavior drops below the acceptable standard of care, the defendant may be liable for damages.
Other times, a statute sets the standard of care. Brandon and other municipalities in Florida usually have animal restraint laws, like leash laws and fence laws. If the owner or custodian violated that statute, and that violation substantially caused injury, there is a presumption that the defendant was negligent.
Negligence cases have a number of moving parts, and victim/plaintiffs must establish each element by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). On the plus side, it is often easier to establish vicarious liability, such as landlord liability, in negligence cases. Third party liability could give the victim/plaintiff an additional source of recovery.
Contact Tenacious Attorneys
Dog bite victims have several legal options. For a free consultation with an experienced dog bite injury lawyer in Brandon, contact Reed & Reed. We have four area offices (St. Petersburg, Lakeland, Tampa, and Clearwater).