Florida Appellate Court Reverses Summary Judgment for Owner in Dog Bite Lawsuit

In Arellano v. Broward K-9/Miami K-9 Services, Inc., the defendant provided two guard dogs to a business located in Miami. One Monday morning, one of the defendant’s employees visited the business to feed the dogs. He discovered, however, that the dogs had escaped from the yard. It was later determined that the business was burglarized the previous night and that the burglars had cut the fence that kept the dogs in the yard.

The plaintiff found the two dogs and believed that they belonged to one of her neighbors. As a result, she fed and sheltered the dogs for five days. During that time, she made efforts to locate the dogs’ owner, including emailing the neighborhood watch group and notifying the County Animal Services office. The plaintiff also had two pet dogs of her own, and she kept them separated from the guard dogs. On the Friday following the dog’s escape, she came home from work to find the two guard dogs missing. She let her pet dogs into the backyard. Shortly thereafter, the guard dogs returned and jumped the fence into the backyard. The plaintiff managed to contain the guard dogs in her laundry room, but one soon escaped and attacked one of her other dogs in the backyard. When the plaintiff intervened in the attack, one of the guard dogs bit her big toe, causing an injury.

Animal Control was called to the scene and took the dogs away, while the plaintiff was taken to the hospital in an ambulance.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit, asserting a strict liability cause of action against the defendant. The defendant moved for summary judgment on the ground that the plaintiff’s actions constituted an intervening, superseding proximate cause, which meant that she could not establish the causation element of the claim. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and also awarded nearly $8,000 in costs against the plaintiff. The plaintiff appealed.

The appellate court reversed the lower court’s grant of summary judgment, finding that material issues of fact existed regarding whether the plaintiff’s actions were the cause of her injuries. Florida’s dog bite statute, Section 767.04, states that “any negligence on the part of the person bitten that is the proximate cause of the biting incident reduces the liability of the owner of the dog . . .” The appellate court interpreted this statutory language as requiring a jury’s determination of whether a dog bite victim was contributorily negligent.

If you or someone you love has suffered a dog bite, you may be entitled to compensation. At Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, our seasoned team of personal injury lawyers has assisted dog bite victims throughout Southwest Florida, including in Fort Myers, Naples, and Cape Coral. To schedule your free consultation, call us now at 1-800-283-7442 or contact us online.

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