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The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. Your trusted legal advisors since 1976

Legal Options in Dog Bite Claims


In 2019, homeowners’ insurance companies paid almost $800 million to resolve dog bite claims. That’s an average of about $44,000 per claim. These amounts have increased substantially since 2003, mostly because doctors’ understanding of dog bite injuries has increased as well.

The physical wounds are the most obvious dog bite wounds, but they might not be the most severe or longest lasting dog bite injuries. Many victims, especially young victims, experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms following these attacks for years. Furthermore, serious infections are also common in these cases.

Due to the severe nature of these injuries a Tampa personal injury attorney might be able to obtain substantial compensation in these cases, which usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.

Strict Liability

Florida has a limited strict liability law. Owners are responsible for bite damages even if they did not know the dog was dangerous. So, these victim/plaintiffs must only prove cause. Following a serious dog bite, such a showing is relatively straightforward.

Now for the downside. Note that the law is limited to bite injuries. In many instances, the knockdown causes more serious physical injuries than the bite. In most contexts, strict liability means just that. But in this context, dog owners might be able to use the contributory negligence defense. Contributory negligence usually involves alleged provocation.

Loud noises and sudden movements are not provocative. Instead, the insurance company must prove the victim deliberately provoked the dog into an attack. 

Scienter (Knowledge)

Florida courts also recognize the common law one-bite rule. Owners are liable for all animal attack damages if they knew the animal was potentially dangerous. Evidence of knowledge includes:

  • Aggressive barking,
  • Sudden lunging,
  • Baring of teeth, and
  • Vicious growling.

Prior attacks against people or other animals might also be relevant to the question of knowledge.

Scienter obviously only applies in some situations. However, if there is clear evidence of knowledge, Hillsborough County jurors often award larger damages in scienter cases than in strict liability claims. Even jurors who are also pet owners often consider owners in scienter cases to be irresponsible people.


Essentially, negligence is a lack of ordinary (common sense) or statutory (written laws) care. Most owners have a duty of reasonable care – most Florida municipalities have leash laws and other animal restraint laws.

Ordinary negligence claims often involve third parties. For example, in Florida, landlords are negligent if they allow tenants to keep large dogs which violate the lease. Likewise, a daycare instructor could be negligent if he allows children to play near a strange dog.

Negligence claims like these often involve third party liability. The daycare teacher might have been negligent, but the daycare owner is financially responsible for damages.

If owners violate leash laws, fence laws, or another animal restraint law, and that violation causes injury, the owner is presumptively liable for damages. Parks and hiking trails are a good example. Some of these places allow all dogs, some only allow leashed dogs, and some prohibit dogs altogether. 

Count on Dedicated Lawyers

Dog bite victims often have multiple legal options. For a free consultation with an experienced Tampa dog bite attorney, contact The Matassini Law Firm. We routinely handle matters in Hillsborough County and nearby jurisdictions.


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