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Some Dog Bite Basics In Florida


Animal attacks are the costliest unintentional injuries. The average dog bite hospital bill is 50 percent higher than the average injury-related hospital bill. Many victims have many different kinds of wounds, such as deep puncture wounds from the dog’s teeth and severe lacerations because of the tearing motion. As a result, a significant number of victims need expensive reconstructive surgery.

Personal injury settlements in this area are often very high as well. The victim’s damages are extensive, and liability is relatively easy to establish under Florida’s strict liability law.

Establishing Liability in Tampa Animal Attack Cases

Dog owners are strictly liable for bite injuries regardless of the animal’s previous demeanor. In other words, the Florida Legislature has done away with the common law one-bite rule. This doctrine excuses liability unless the owner knew that the dog was dangerous to people (e.g. had bitten someone before).

In a way, the strict liability law is limited. It only applies to bite injuries. Many victims also sustain serious injuries due to the knockdown or the dog’s claws. In these situations, victim/plaintiffs can rely on a number of legal theories to obtain compensation:

  • Negligence: Essentially, negligence is a lack of ordinary care. Owners who fail to restrain their dogs, especially if they know the animals are potentially dangerous, arguably display a lack of care. Non-owners, such as teachers who allow students to play with strange dogs, can also be negligent.
  • Negligence Per Se: Tampa and most other Florida cities have very specific leash laws, fence requirements, and other animal restraint rules. If the owner violates these rules, and that violation substantially caused the damages, there is a very strong presumption of negligence. Negligence per se is usually not absolute in Florida unless the tortfeasor (negligent actor) breaks a serious criminal law, like DUI.
  • Scienter (Knowledge): Much like simple negligence, scienter applies to both owners and non-owner custodians. If the person in control of the dog knows the animal is potentially dangerous, that person could be financially responsible for damages.

Compensation in a Tampa dog bite case usually includes money for both economic damages, such as medical bills, and noneconomic damages, such as pain and suffering. Additional punitive damages may be available as well in some extreme cases.

Third party liability may come into play as well. For example, in the aforementioned teacher-student example, the school district may be vicariously liable for the negligence of its teacher.

Florida law also holds landlords responsible in some cases. If the landowner failed to enforce a lease clause prohibiting certain animals, and that kind of animal attacks someone, the landlord could be liable.

Insurance Company Defenses in Tampa

Contributory negligence is one of two defenses in the Florida dog bite statute. Insurance company lawyers often assert that the victim “provoked” the dog. In this context, provocation usually means inflicting pain on the animal to an extent which justifies a violent response. Children under six are incapable of provoking dogs as a matter of law.

Furthermore, if the Florida owner posted a “Beware of Dog” sign in a place where the victim could see it, and the victim could read and understand the sign, the owner may not be liable. There are obviously a number of moving parts in this defense. The insurance company has the burden of proof on each one. A lack of evidence on any one point brings the whole defense crashing down.

Connect With Compassionate Lawyers

Dog bite victims may be entitled to substantial compensation for their serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Tampa, contact The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. We do not charge upfront legal fees in negligence cases.

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