These animal attacks are extremely costly, as the average hospital bill is 50 percent higher for dog bites than for other injury-related stays. Extensive emergency care usually means extensive physical rehabilitation as well. Adult victims are usually not able to work during this period, and child victims may never fully recover from their physical injuries.
Such tangible costs are only part of the story. Many dog bite victims also undergo Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other extreme emotional distress, usually for months or even years.
Florida laws are very favorable to victims in this area. So, compensation is available for both economic and economic losses. However, the insurance company does not simply give these benefits away. Fortunately, there are a number of recovery theories available and the possible defenses can be blunted.
Theories of Recovery in Florida Dog Bite Cases
As mentioned, Florida animal attack laws are very broad. In fact, the Sunshine State is one of the few jurisdictions that have completely done away with the common law “one bite rule” that gave many dog owners free passes even if their animals viciously or even fatally attacked an innocent person. Some specific approaches include:
- Strict Liability: If an animal injures another person while in the direct custody of its owner, that owner is automatically responsible for all the victim/plaintiff’s economic and noneconomic damages, unless the owner has a legal defense.
- Negligence: If injury occurs while the victim is on another person’s property, such as a daycare or school, the victim may obtain compensation if the owner’s behavior fell below the standard of care. For example, daycare teachers are arguably negligent if they let children play with strange animals.
- Scienter (Knowledge): If a dog walker or other third party has care of a dog, knows the animal is potentially dangerous, and injury occurs, that party may be responsible for all the victim’s damages.
- Negligence Per Se: Most jurisdictions in Florida have very strict leash and fence laws. If the owner or custodian violated such laws, s/he may be responsible for damages as a matter of law.
- Third Party Liability: Most employers are legally responsible for their employees’ negligent acts. Similarly, property landlords may be liable for damages if they knew the animal was dangerous, had sufficient control of the premises to protect the victim/plaintiff, and failed to take such measures.
Typically, the defendant’s homeowners insurance policy covers these damages, and these policies do not have the same strict limits as auto insurance policies, at least in most cases. As in other negligence claims, a dog bite victim/plaintiff must establish liability by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), which is the lowest standard of proof in Florida law.
Overcoming the Provocation Defense in Florida
This doctrine is usually the most common insurance company defense in dog bite cases. Essentially, lawyers shift blame for the attack onto the victim/plaintiff, claiming that the victim provoked the dog.
But in this context, “provocation” means inflicting physical pain onto the animal with the intent to trigger its flight-or-fight reflex, as opposed to verbal teasing. Moreover, if the victim was six or younger, the Florida provocation defense is unavailable as a matter of law.
Count on Experienced Attorneys
At our law firm, we fight for dog bite victims. 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).