Many times during the course of my practice people have come to me after they or their child have been attacked by a dog and want to know whether they can sue the owner of the dog. My answer is always;” It depends.” Florida has a specific statute regarding a dog owner’s liability for an attack which basically says an owner of a dog is liable only if the owner did not do certain things. For instance, if the owner put up prominent signs on his property which said ”Bad Dog” and the attack happened on the property the owner is not liable unless the victim is under 6 years old, the owner told the victim to ignore the signs or the owner did something himself/herself which contributed to the attack. Of course the owner also always has the defense that the victim somehow provoked the attack. Lastly, if the attack did not occur on the property then obviously the “sign defense” goes out the window.
Another issue which often arises is even if the owner of the dog is responsible is it worth it to sue. Assuming the injuries are significant, the sad fact is that it is rarely worth suing for injuries unless the responsible party has homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Florida has been called a “debtor’s heaven” because of its many laws which make it very difficult to collect against an individual’s assets. For instance, even if the owner of the dog owner owns his own home, if that home is homesteaded it is exempt from judgment. And even if there is insurance you still need to examine the policy itself since many policies now exclude from their coverage any attacks by dogs or exclude attacks by certain breeds of dogs, i.e. pitbulls.
As you can see, if you or a loved one are attacked by a dog, it is important to hire an experience attorney given the complicated issues that arise in pursuing damages from that attack. We at Lusk, Drasites and Tolisano P.A. would be happy to meet with you at no charge to discuss those issues with you.