We all know most dogs are sweet, loving companions who wouldn't hurt anyone unless specifically provoked (and sometimes not even then). However, there are dogs that do bite, whether they have a history of vicious behavior or not. If a dog has bitten you or your child, your state's laws will affect how and under what circumstances you can collect damages.
Types of Injuries
Most commonly, when people think of injuries from dogs, they think of bites. But dogs can also cause other injuries, especially if it's an all-out attack. While bites are most common, any injury sustained as a result of the attack can be included as damage in the lawsuit, including any damage done to animals (domestic, livestock or even wild game if such game is necessary to control or eradicate pests that threaten the area).
Types of Dog Bite Laws
There are two types of dog bite laws in the U.S., and which one applies to you depends on what state you live in. Some states have what's known as one-bite laws. Essentially, every dog owner is given a freebie under the theory that until that first bite, they had no way of knowing their dog would bite. There are exceptions here; such as when the owner should have had other indications (like the dog's breed being considered dangerous or other behavior by the dog) and whether the dog owner took reasonable precautions once they realized the dog might bite.
Other states, like Florida, have strict liability laws. In Florida, there's no freebie. Instead, the plaintiff simply has to prove certain conditions are met and the burden of proof is rarely high.
In Florida, if a dog owner has their dog out in public or around people lawfully on private property (like their home or yard) and it bites someone, the owner may be liable for the damages the person suffers regardless of the dog's clean history. But the law also recognizes that sometimes, people truly are responsible for their own bites.
The rules are different for children under 6 unless a parent or guardian could have taken reasonable action to prevent the bite (like stopping a child from taunting a dog).
Also note that a dog owner may be negligent per se, which is a fancy legal term that essentially means they're negligent simply by virtue of violating a law or ordinance intended to protect people from just this sort of thing. In this case, examples include leash laws or laws intended to ensure dogs are properly restrained at home and can't run amok in the neighborhood.
While negligence is the most common claim, there are other legal theories under which to bring a lawsuit against a dog owner, including scienter (knowledge that what they were doing was wrong, but they did it anyway, such as bringing a dog with a dangerous history to a park) and intentional tort (the result of an intentional act by the owner, such as commanding the dog to attack when such command was not necessary to protect the owner or other bystanders).
The Important Meaning of "Lawfully" on Private Property
Note that in order to recover damages from a dog owner after a bite that occurred on their private property, you must have been on their property lawfully. You're on someone's property lawfully when:
- You're expressly or implicitly invited to come
over (an example of implied invitation is having a garage sale or running a
business the victim would normally be authorized to enter)
- You're a state or federal employee entering the property in the execution of your duties
- You're a postal worker executing your duties
- You're otherwise employed by a company directly or indirectly commissioned by the property owner executing your duties to that customer (such as a delivery person or repair person)
If the defendant can prove that you hold at least part, if not all, of the responsibility for your attack, that will reduce or nullify the amount of your claim. You cannot provoke a dog. You can't ignore a dog owner's warnings about their dog or circumvent their reasonable protections. You can't commit or attempt to commit a violent crime or threaten a person on someone's property, even if you're otherwise authorized to be there. You can't go onto the property of the neighbor of someone who's property you're authorized to be on (unless you're otherwise authorized to be there), you can't go into areas of the property you're warned not to go into or should've reasonably known you shouldn't enter (like a closed bedroom you don't otherwise need access to for your work).
All of these things and potentially more could impact the amount you receive in damages if they cause a jury to rule that you're partially responsible for the incident.
The exception to these statutes is as easy as a sign. If a dog owner who knows or has reason to suspect their dog might be dangerous hangs a sign that says "bad dog" or "beware of dog" in a place that's conspicuous and easy to read, the owner may not be liable for damages for victims 6 years old and older.
How to Know If You Have a Case
Dog bite laws can be very complex because every situation is unique. If you've been bitten by a dog in the Kissimmee, Florida, area, call the dog attack lawyers at Draper Law Offices at 866.767.4711 for a free, no-obligation consultation.
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