Loyalty, intelligence, and compassion are the best qualities of a dog – one of human kind’s oldest domesticated animal companions. For these reasons, there is little room for doubt as to why these four-legged comrades enjoy the title of “man’s best friend.”
However, violence and aggression – like any other animal – make up a dog’s harshest characteristics. When an aggressive dog attacks another person, Florida law regarding owner liability steps in to make sure that a dog’s bite is costlier than its bark.
Common Law Liability
At common law, dog owners were liable for dog bite injuries if they had prior knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensities. Thus, if a dog had never attacked another person before, the owner was not liable for injuries caused by its first attack. This approach to dog bite liability was commonly known as the “first bite rule.”
The Dog Bite Statute
Under section 767.04 of the Florida Statutes, “the owner of any dog that bites any person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, is liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.”
Thus, Florida’s dog bite statute holds owners solely liable for a bitten plaintiff’s damages at the exclusion of dog keepers, custodians, or property owners where the dog is kept. Given the dire consequences of dog ownership under this statute, a bitten plaintiff must prove actual ownership of the dog.
The Florida Supreme Court held that section 767.04 superseded the common law “first bite” rule and imposed liability on the dog owner without proof of fault. The plaintiff only needed to prove actual ownership of a dog that presented an unreasonable risk of injury.
The Dog Injury Statute
Florida Statutes, section 767.01 provides that “owners of dogs shall be liable for any damage done by their dogs to a person or to any… ‘domestic animal’ and ‘livestock…’” Here, the language “any damage” indicates that dog owners are strictly liable for injuries a dog causes. Thus, owner liability is not restricted to instances where a dog bites someone else. Courts have interpreted section 767.01 to hold dog owners liable for injuries resulting from a car accident caused when their dog escapes into the street.
Section 767.04 of the Florida Statutes also provides that “the owner is not liable, except as to a person under the age of 6, or unless the damages are proximately caused by a negligent act or omission of the owner, if at the time of any such injury the owner had displayed in a prominent place on his or her premises a sign easily readable including the words ‘Bad Dog.’” Accordingly, a warning must provide persons actual notice of the dog’s aggressive tendencies to escape liability for bites and other injuries caused by the dog. Thus, an owner would still be liable to illiterate persons and children who were injured by their dog despite posting a “bad dog” sign.
Under the dog bite statute, “any negligence on the part of the person bitten that is a proximate cause of the biting incident reduces the liability of the owner of the dog by the percentage that the bitten person’s negligence contributed to the biting incident.”
This language enshrines what is known as the “provocation” defense whereby the dog owner’s liability is reduced by the fact that the injured plaintiff provoked the dog into attacking them. Courts have broadly interpreted the statute to shield owners from liability when the injured plaintiff threatened the dog owner, provoking the dog to spring into action in defense of its master.
Injured by Someone’s Dog? Politis & Matovina, P.A. Is Here to Help
Florida’s dog injury laws give injured plaintiffs a substantial basis for claiming a legal remedy from dog owners. However, the task of proving actual ownership and overcoming other issues makes consulting an experienced Daytona Beach dog bite attorney advantageous. At Politis & Matovina, P.A., we have years of valuable experience litigating personal injury matters such as dog bite cases. You can count on us to work hard to ensure you receive a damages award or settlement for your injuries.
Call Politis & Matovina, P.A. at (386) 333-6613 to arrange a free consultation regarding your rights under Florida law.