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Florida Dog Bite Laws


For animal lovers, our pets are members of our families. This does mean that like our children, we are responsible for what our pets do – both good and bad, and nowhere is this more apparent than in dealing with dog bite cases. In rare circumstances even the most docile dog can bite someone, and if that does happen, both the dog’s owner and the person who has been bitten may face some difficult consequences.

Multiple Ways To Recover

Animal bite laws in Florida tend to favor the victim in most circumstances, and as a result, there are several ways that someone may be able to recover for injuries suffered. Most dog bite cases are tried under a theory of either ordinary negligence law or strict liability, depending on the situation. A standard negligence case requires that four criteria be shown in order to recover – the existence of a duty to exercise reasonable care, a breach of that duty, a  showing that the breach was directly caused by the defendant’s conduct (as opposed to any other cause), and tangible harm done to the plaintiff.

Strict liability, however, is a legal theory that does not require any knowledge of or intent to harm. In a strict liability dog bite case, an owner can be held liable even if they have no idea that their dog was capable of harm, or that they might reasonably be expected to bite. Because of this, only causation and harm need to be explicitly shown in order to recover; strict liability ignores whether or not a duty or breach existed. In strict liability cases, it is thus much easier for a defendant to be found liable.

Possible Defenses

Even in a strict liability case, however, it is possible for a defendant dog owner to assert what are called affirmative defenses – valid reasons why they should not be blamed for their dog’s biting the plaintiff. There are generally two available in dog bite cases – the first is trespassing. Florida law explicitly requires that a plaintiff be “lawfully” in a private place, or in a public place, before a dog owner can be held liable for their pet’s bite, and if someone can be proven to be trespassing, they are not lawfully present. The rationale is that the dog and owner would not have expected anyone to come onto their private property, and thus have no duty to make it safe or warn of the potential danger.

The other affirmative defense commonly seen in dog bite cases is contributory negligence. This means that if the plaintiff was abusing or mistreating the animal, any recovery they get will be either extinguished or diminished by their proportion of fault. For example, if a person is held to be 40 percent at fault for causing a dog to bite them, any recovery they were awarded would be reduced by 40 percent. If the court finds that the plaintiff was taunting or tormenting the dog, they may be denied recovery entirely, and the defendant will not be found liable.

Call A Knowledgeable Attorney For Help

Dog bite cases are among the most potentially painful personal injury matters, because emotions can run so high, but having an attorney who understands to act for you can be a big help. The Tampa personal injury lawyers at the Rinaldo Law Group will work to handle your case in a manner that is fair to all involved. Contact our office today at 813-831-9999 to set up an initial appointment.



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