Recently, WFLA reported that, according to a report by insurance company State Farm, Florida ranks in the top ten states for dog bite claims. According the report, in 2012, Floridians made 123 dog bite claims which resulted in pay-outs of $7.1 million, ranking Florida eighth in the country. California was ranked number one, followed by Illinois and Texas at two and three. State Farm paid-out approximately $108 million for dog bite claims in 2012, and estimates there are more than 4.7 million dog bites each year.
Despite a common misconception to the contrary, dogs are not permitted one “free bite” under Florida law and, in fact, the law states quite the opposite. Florida Statutes Section 767.04 states in part:
The owner of any dog that bites any person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, is liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners’ knowledge of such viciousness.
Section 767.04 is what the law recognizes as a “strict liability” statute. Strict liability statutes impose liability on an individual for certain types of conduct without a finding of fault, such as negligence. This means that, under Florida law and the laws of most other states, the owner of a dog that bites another individual is automatically held liable for any resulting injury. This liability is imposed regardless of the dog’s former viciousness, or lack therefore, or the owners’ knowledge of such viciousness.
However, the statute expressly recognizes the fact that Florida has adopted the doctrine of comparative negligence, stating that “[a]ny negligence, however, on the part of the dog bite victim that is a proximate cause of the biting incident reduces the liability of the dog owner by the percentage that the bitten person’s negligence contributed to the biting incident.”
Florida law also recognizes an exception to the statute under the following circumstances: (1) the victim of a bite is more than six years old; (2) the incident occurred on the dog owner’s property; and (3) the property had displayed in a “prominent place” an “easily readable” sign that included the words “Bad Dog.” If the owner satisfies each of these three elements of the exception, he or she is absolved of liability.
Understanding the provisions of Florida law regarding dog bite liability is of particular importance to landlords, who have a duty to protect tenants from a vicious dog(s) that the landlord knows about. Further, landlords can be held liable for failing to enforce “no dog” provisions in lease or rent agreements.
Dog attacks can be particularly dangerous as they often result in severe injuries and, in extreme cases, death. The qualified Florida injury attorneys of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. have extensive experience representing the victims of dog attacks. If you or someone you know has been injured in a dog attack, contact the attorneys of Gerson & Schwartz, P.A. today.