Dogs are intelligent creatures and wonderful companions, but they can sometimes be unfriendly and aggressive, especially if untrained and allowed to wander freely. Every day in the United States almost 1,000 people are bitten by dogs and require emergency treatment for their injuries. Injury from a dog attack can be serious, with some victims being maimed and some dying.
Dogs not controlled by their owners are potentially dangerous. Florida dog bite and leash laws reflect how seriously the increasing incidence of dog attacks is viewed. Communities across the nation are strengthening their laws to improve enforcement of leash laws and impose stricter responsibilities and penalties on dog owners who fail to adequately restrain their pets.
Florida does not have a statewide mandated leash law. The regulation of dog control is decided and administered by county or municipal governments.
A leash law is a legal requirement that a dog be controlled by its owner when the dog is in a public space or on the owner’s private property. Control can be achieved by a fence, a leash, a chain, or other form of humane restraint. The purpose of leash laws is the reduce and prevent dog attacks. Governments recognize that dogs can be unpredictable, so even a well-trained animal must be leashed to protect children, adults, and other animals from being harmed
Broward County leash law prohibits dogs from roaming freely and at large on public streets, properties, sidewalks, or parks. Dogs cannot stray on to someone’s private property unless the property owner permits access. While in a public area, dogs must be retrained by a tether, such as a leash, chain, or cord, handled by the owner and of enough strength to control the dog.
Abiding by the applicable leash law does not exempt a dog owner from liability for harm his or her pet may cause. It is the legal responsibility of the dog owner to control the dog whether or not there is a leash law in effect.
Owner Liable for Injuries
Florida statute provides that a dog owner is liable for injuries his or her dog causes to people or animals. The law imposes liability on the dog owner when a dog bites a person on public or private property, including property owned by the dog owner. The dog’s reputation for viciousness, even when known by the bite victim, is not a defense to liability.
This means that Florida is a strict liability dog bite state, and as such, dog owners can be held liable for damages their dogs cause even if the dog has never bitten a person before.
Also, a dog owner could be liable to damage the dog does to someone’s property. Examples include a dog digging up a neighbor’s flower or vegetable garden; chewing on and damaging part of a fence on a neighbor’s property; or jumping up on someone’s car and scratching or gouging the paint finish. Dogs are not permitted to create noise pollution with habitual barking, growling, whining, or howling. Dog owners may be found liable to disturbing their neighbor’s peaceful enjoyment of their home.
A dog owner whose dog bites someone is under strict liability in Florida. That means that the owner will be liable regardless of whether he knew or should have known of the dog’s likelihood to bite. The bite victim does not have to prove the dog owner acted negligently or did not use reasonable care.
The law in Florida provides dog owners with legal defenses to charges levied following a dog bite or other attack. The dog owner is not held liable when:
The bite victim was trespassing on the owner’s private property. However, persons are presumed to be lawfully on a dog owner’s property if they are performing a legal duty, such as police work or postal deliver.
The owner displays a conspicuously posted sign easily read and clearly notifying persons with words such as “Bad Dog” that the dog is dangerous. Even where such a sign is posted, the dog owner remains liable:
For injuries to a child under age 6; or
When the dog owner is the proximate cause of the injury due to his or her negligence or omission
Provoked Dog Defense
Because strict liability is imposed on dog owners in cases of dog bite, the owner is liable for injuries to the bite victim, but the owner can present evidence that the victim’s conduct contributed to his or her injuries. Where the evidence persuades the court of the victim’s negligent behavior, the court can reduce the dog owner’s liability by a percentage equal to the percentage the victim’s conduct contributed to the injury.
Florida case law indicates, however, that the bite victim’s behavior must have been blatant and egregiously wrong. These are examples of behaviors the court could find shifts liability in whole or in part from the dog owner to the person who was bitten.
Careless risk: The person knew the dog was ferocious or skittish and prone to attack, but the person carelessly placed himself or herself within dangerous proximity to the animal despite the owner’s warnings or attempts to restrain the dog.
Teasing: The person repeatedly teased the dog by tempting the dog with food or a treat but withholding the item; chasing and cornering it; or interfering with the dog’s possession of or enjoyment in a toy or food/water bowl.
Tormenting: The person physically rough-housed with the dog; beat or kicked the animal; or repeatedly poked the dog or pulled its tail
In a dog bite case, the kinds of damages available to the victim include medical costs, lost wages, lost future earnings, therapy and nursing care, emotional distress/pain and suffering, and punitive.
If you or your child have been attacked by a dog and injured, you may have to bring legal action against the owner of the dog to recover the medical expenses of treating your injuries and for your pain and suffering. Call our law offices today for a free consultation with the skilled Florida personal injury attorneys at Madalon Law. The attorneys at Madalon Law are experienced attorneys who competently handle dog bite cases and will put forth your best case. We are based in Fort Lauderdale, and serve clients in Miami, Broward, Palm Beach, and throughout Florida.