OWNING AND caring for a dog is one of the biggest responsibilities a person can choose to undertake. For most, the experience is rewarding, with dogs constantly being referred to as members of the family. They aren’t called “man’s best friend” for nothing. However, when it comes to dog bite liability, those best friends can cause nightmares.
Many dog owners may not realize, however, the potential legal liabilities that can come with dog ownership. In Florida, dog owners are liable for any damage their dog causes to a person or other domestic pets or livestock. This means Florida has rejected the old “one-bite rule” and holds owners liable for their dog’s actions, regardless of the dog’s breed or whether the dog exhibited the behavior in the past.
For victims who have been either personally bitten by a dog or had their pet or property damaged by a dog, Florida provides multiple grounds for relief. These include suing for damages under a “strict liability” theory in addition to negligence of the owner. See, e.g., § 767.04,Fla. Stat. (providing, “The remedy provided by this section is in addition to and cumulative with any other remedy provided by statute or common law”). Furthermore, punitive damages may also be available if the owner’s wanton, malicious, deliberate, or grossly negligent behavior resulted in dog bite injuries. Auto Safety Service, Inc. v. Martein, 362 So. 2d 455 (Fla. 4th DCA 1978).
For owners, depending on the specific facts of the incident, the consequences can be catastrophic. As mentioned above, you’re liable for the damage your dog causes, which could result in a judgment for the victim in tens of thousands of dollars. Luckily, many homeowners’ insurance policies provide coverage for dog bites. However, consequences don’t stop there. Depending on whether your dog has been designated as a “dangerous dog” pursuant to Fla. Stat. § 767.12 or local ordinances, the dog may be ordered to be euthanized if it is determined that the nature and circumstances of the injury will threaten the public safety, health, and welfare.” Even more serious, the owner may face criminal charges punishable by fines and even jail time.
Whether you are a dog owner or a victim dealing with a dog bite issue, feel free to call our office at 407-965-5519 to discuss your options moving forward. Feel free to also email Attorney Jeffrey Vizcaino here.