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

Understanding Dog Bite Injuries In Tampa


Many times, the physical injuries that dog bite victims sustain involve much more than a nip or a scratch. In fact, in 2014, U.S. homeowners’ insurance companies paid over $530 million in dog bite claims.

The broken bones, severe lacerations, and other physical injuries only tell part of the story. Many victims, especially children, suffer from nightmares, flashbacks, and other Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms for months or years after the attack. These kinds of symptoms often make it very difficult to function at home or at school.

In Florida, substantial compensation is available for both these economic and noneconomic damages. What are some key components of a Florida dog bite claim?

Theories of Recovery in Florida

The Sunshine State has a limited strict liability law. It does away with the common law one-bite rule. Under this doctrine, owners are only liable for damages if the dog had a history of vicious behavior. This “history” does not have to be ancient history. Under the one-bite rule, if a dog snarls and then attacks, the owner may be on notice that the dog is potentially dangerous.

Florida’s strict liability law is limited because it only applies to bite injuries. Many times, the knockdown and other parts of the attack cause more harm than the bite. So, in addition to the strict liability law, Tampa victims have several legal options, including:

  • Negligence Per Se: Tampa and most other jurisdictions have very clear animal restraint laws. If an owner did not obey this law, and that disobedience substantially caused the injury, the owner may be liable for all damages sustained.

  • Scienter (Knowledge): This theory applies to both owners and non-owner custodians. If a dog walker knows that a dog may be dangerous and that dog attacks someone, the dog walker could be responsible for damages. In addition to snarling, other evidence of ferocity includes prior attacks on people or animals, aggressive barking, and baring of teeth.

  • Negligence: Owners, custodians, and third parties could be negligent. For example, if a landlord prohibits certain types of animals, does not enforce the ban, and a prohibited animal injured someone, the Tampa landlord could be liable for damages as a matter of law.

The respondeat superior (“let the master answer”) doctrine applies in Florida dog bite cases as well. For example, if a daycare teacher lets her students play with a strange dog and that dog bites a child, the daycare owner could be liable for damages.

Some Animal Attack Defenses in Florida

In almost all Tampa dog bite cases, the insurance company argues that the victim provoked the dog. However, in this context, provocation is more than teasing or prodding. Provocation usually only applies if the victim inflicted so much pain on the animal that it had no choice but to lash out. Moreover, young children cannot provoke a dog as a matter of law.

Additionally, a “Beware of Dog” sign may give rise to the assumption of the risk defense. This defense excuses tortious conduct if the victim:

  • Voluntarily assumed
  • A known risk.

So, if the sign was in a conspicuous location, and the victim could both read and understand the sign, the defense may apply.

Connect with Assertive Lawyers

Dog bite cases often give rise to complicated legal issues. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Tampa, contact The Matassini Law Firm, P.A. We routinely handle cases in Hillsborough County and nearby jurisdictions.


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