Dog Bites / Attacks
Florida law holds the owner of a dog liable if it injures someone, even if the dog has never before shown aggressive behavior. The old notion of "the first bite is free" no longer applies in Florida, and for good reason. Dog bites can cause extremely serious injuries, disfiguring scars and emotional trauma. Unfortunately, children are often the victims of dog attacks.
According to the American Humane Association, an estimated 4.7 million dog bites occur in our country each year, with nearly 800,000 of those bites requiring medical attention. Half of all dog attacks involve children 12 years old or younger; boys are bitten more frequently than girls. A staggering 92 percent of all fatal dog attacks involve male dogs who are not neutered. Older persons are the second most common victims of dog bites and attacks. In short, our most vulnerable members of society are the victims in the majority of these incidents.
The United States has approximately 78 million pet dogs. Florida alone has approximately 11 million dogs. Every year, roughly 500 people in Florida suffer dog bites that require hospitalization. On average, two fatal dog attacks happen annually in Florida.
Florida Statute Section 767.04 applies to dog bites and attacks. It changes the common law approach that required a victim to prove the owner of the dog was aware of the dog’s aggressiveness prior to the attack. Florida law now holds the dog owner liable for an attack even if the dog never previously bit or attacked anyone. The statute still allows an owner to escape liability if the victim provoked the attack or if the owner had a conspicuous sign warning of the presence of a “bad dog.”
In addition to the wounds caused by a dog bite, serious infections can occur. We recently handled a case where a woman was bitten by a dog. After being seen in the emergency room for what seemed like a moderate injury, the woman developed a serious infection. Ultimately, she developed reflex sympathetic dystrophy, a serious and permanent neurological disease, in her hand and arm. Infections are a common complication from dog bites turning what may seem like a relatively minor injury into a serious problem.
Sometimes, the homeowners’ insurance for the owner of the dog will cover dog attacks. More than one-third of homeowners’ insurance personal injury claim payments are attributable to dog bites. However, more and more insurance companies are excluding this type of coverage for all dogs or certain breeds. Breeds that are often excluded include: Pit Bulls; Rottweilers; Akitas; Chow-Chows; Doberman Pinschers; Perro de Presa Canarios; and Wolf-Dog Hybrids.
Because some breeds are more likely to attack, some communities have implemented Breed Specific Legislation, prohibiting ownership of certain types of breeds. This type of legislation is controversial and opponents say it does little to protect the public from dog bites.
Regardless of whether certain breeds are more likely to attack, dog owners are responsible for their dog's behavior. Owners should take necessary precautions, such as: neutering or spaying their dogs; displaying warning signs for aggressive dogs; keeping vaccinations up to date; not allowing dogs to run loose; and keeping dogs away from strangers, especially kids. Parents should be protective of their children when approaching an unfamiliar dog.
Here are some tips on how to protect you and your children from a dog bite or dog attack:
- Never approach an unfamiliar dog, especially if it is tied up or restrained.
- Respect the dog's personal space. Do not bother a dog while it is sleeping, eating, caring for puppies or chewing on a toy.
- Read the dog's body language. If you notice a stiff tail, tensed disposition, intense stare or pulled back ears, the dog is uncomfortable and may attack.
- Never catch a dog off guard. Even if it is your own dog, do not approach it unless it sees and smells you first.
If you have any questions about personal injuries resulting from a dog attack, our experienced personal injury attorneys can help you determine if you are entitled to compensation for your damages. A recovery can compensate you for medical treatment, loss of past and future income, psychological damage, and pain and suffering. In cases where a dog owner has shown negligence, we can take your case from start to finish and help you get your life back to normal. Please contact us for a free no obligation consultation.