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Legal Options for Dog Bite Victims


Here in Florida, the average dog bite claim amount increased again in 2018, to almost $45,000 per incident. That’s the second-highest per-claim average in the United States.

Frequently, dog bites cause physical and psychological injuries. Physically, the wounds often require extensive and expensive treatment and specialty trauma centers. That’s because dog bites often cause both deep puncture wounds and severe tearing lacerations. Psychologically, dog bites often cause Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, especially among child victims.

A Tampa dog bite attorney does more than arrange for immediate medical care for victims. Attorneys have several legal options to obtain compensation for damages. Generally, these damages include not only medical bills and other economic losses, but also pain and suffering and other noneconomic losses.

Strict Liability

One reason damages are so high in Florida is that the laws are extremely victim-friendly. Like many other jurisdictions, the Sunshine State has a strict liability law. Owners are always responsible for bite injuries, even if they did not know the animal was potentially vicious.

However, Florida’s strict liability law is limited to bite damages. Many times, the knockdown may be worse than the bite, especially if a large mastiff dog lunges at a child. It is sometimes difficult to separate bite from non-bite injuries. PTSD is a good illustration. The knockdown alone might trigger symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares, and an unnatural fear of all dogs.


This Latin word means “knowledge.” Owners are liable for damages if they knew the animal might be vicious. Evidence of knowledge includes:

  • Prior attacks,
  • Aggressive barking,
  • Baring teeth, and
  • Sudden lunging.

The burden of proof in civil court is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). So, a little evidence of knowledge goes a long way.

An obvious problem here is that this evidence is very circumstantial. Prior attacks are a good example. Most everyone would agree that an attack which occurred a few hours ago is evidence of knowledge. An attack which occurred a few months ago, especially if the owner was not present at the time, is another matter.


Like everyone else, dog owners have a duty of care. This idea comes from The Golden Rule (do unto others as you would have them do unto you) which school children once memorized. In Florida, dog bite negligence could also involve a landlord, employer, or another third party. Vicarious liability is especially important in wrongful death and other catastrophic injury claims. Homeowners’ policies usually have higher coverage limits that auto accident policies, but the owner may not have enough coverage to fully compensate for all losses.

There are more defenses available in negligence claims than in other claims. Assumption of the risk is a good example. This defense excuses liability if the victim:

  • Voluntarily assumed
  • A known risk.

“Beware of Dog” signs make assumption of the risk easier to prove. However, the insurance company must still show that the victim could see the sign, read the sign, and understand what it meant. These things are sometimes difficult to show if the victim was a young child.

Connect with Dedicated Lawyers

Dog bite victims have several legal options. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Tampa, contact The Matassini Law Firm. Home and hospital visits are available.




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