Yes, the dog owner is liable if the person was in a public place or legally on private property, including where the dog lives, when bitten. The Florida statutes have no requirement that the owner knew of the dog being vicious in the past, or that the dog ever previously bit anyone. In other words, there is no “one free bite” for dogs in Florida.
Florida Laws on Dog Bites and Keeping Dogs
In Florida, state law will hold a dog owner responsible to anyone his or her dog bites unless the victim is not legally on the property where the bite happened. By way of example, an electric meter reader or postal carrier who is in the act of doing her job is legally on the property, according to the statute. A dog owner’s social guests are legally on the property. A trespasser who is breaking into a dog owner’s house, however, is not legally on the property.
Loopholes in the Florida Dog Bite Statute
You should be aware that a dog owner can get around liability in some circumstances by posting a highly visible “Bad Dog” sign on his or her property. This sign will not, however, shield him or her from liability if his or her negligence caused the dog bite, or if the bitten person is five years old or younger.
How a Dog Bite Victim’s Fault Can Affect Compensation
The Florida statute reduces the amount of money a person can recover for a dog bite when the victim’s negligence caused the injury. For example, a social guest taunts the property owner’s dog by taking a piece of meat away from the dog repeatedly. The dog owner warns the guest and tells him to stop, but he persists, and eventually, the dog bites him.
If the damages are $5,000 and the judge finds that the bite victim was 80 percent at fault in causing the dog to bite him, the law will reduce the recovery by 80. The owner then will only have to pay $1,000 of the damages because that is the amount apportioned for the bite victim’s negligence.
Some of the Local Ordinances on Dog Bites and Keeping Dogs
In addition to the state law, Broward County and local municipalities have ordinances that apply to dogs. If a dog owner violates these ordinances and a person gets a dog bite. As a result, the dog owner can face fines and other penalties as well as have to pay damages to the victim.
In Broward County, it is illegal for a dog to be “at large.”
A dog is at large when it is not on a:
- Fenced in
- Otherwise prevented from roaming at will
A dog must be under the physical control of someone at all times. Broward County leash laws prohibit restraining a dog in such a way that it has access to either public property or property that belongs to someone else.
Several communities in the Boca Raton area (in Palm Beach County) and elsewhere ban breeds they deem as dangerous. These breeds are not allowed in these communities for any length of time, whether as pets of residents or visiting.
The banned breeds include:
- Pit bulls
- Doberman Pinschers
- Presa Canarios
The communities also forbid “dangerous dogs,” which they define as a dog that has ever aggressively bitten, attacked, or severely injured a person or domestic animal or that has chased or menacingly approached anyone without provocation.
The Legal Consequences of Violating the State Law or Local Ordinances
If a dog owner violates state law, the ordinances of the county or local government, or the rules of the community, a judge can consider the violation as negligence if a dog bite results. A person does not have to be acting carelessly to be negligent when a legal violation causes a dog to bite someone.
When a person flagrantly disobeys the law, and someone suffers harm; as a result, a judge or jury might award higher compensation to the victim and perhaps even punitive damages to send a message about this type of behavior.
When a Dog Owner Can Be Liable for a Dog Bite to Other Animals in Florida
A dog owner can face liability if his dog bites or injures another animal in Florida. The Florida statutes specify that dog owners are responsible for damage their dogs inflict on domestic pets and livestock, in addition to people.
If a person faces criminal charges or a civil lawsuit for killing or injuring a dog, Florida law considers it a good defense if the person can show that the dog was in the act of or had recently murdered any domestic animal or livestock. A dog owner is liable for any damage (including dog bites) her dog does to dairy cattle, even if the dog has no history of such behavior.
Liability of Dog Owners in Florida and Insurance Coverage
If you suffer a dog bite or other injury, or a dog bites or injures your domestic animal or livestock, the dog owner has a high likelihood of having to pay for the damages. The dog owner might have to pay the costs out-of-pocket, however, because many homeowner’s insurance policies specifically exclude dog bites from their coverage.
The insurance company is most likely to deny coverage when the dog owner:
- Keeps a banned dog breed
- Keeps a dog with a history of aggressive behavior
- Fails to train the dog
- Fails to keep the dog restrained at all times
How to Avoid Being Bitten by a Dog
Keep a safe distance from other people’s dogs, even when they are on a leash. Do not play with, taunt, or interact with dogs that belong to other people. If you see a dog running loose, immediately go indoors and call animal control.
Sometimes, regardless of how careful we are, accidents happen. If you or a loved one has suffered a dog bite, we can evaluate your facts to see if you might be entitled to compensation. If you call the Montero Law Center at 954-767-6500, we can schedule your initial consultation at no cost to you.