Florida, like many states, has a statute that imposes strict liability on dog owners for harm caused by their pets. Although it is commonly referred to as the “dog bite law,” it applies to all damages caused by dogs, not only those arising out of bites. Because it is a strict liability statute, the dog bite law does not require victims to prove the dog owner acted negligently, as discussed in a recent ruling issued by a Florida court. If you were hurt in a dog attack, it is wise to meet with a Florida personal injury attorney to discuss your options for seeking damages.
The Facts of the Case
It is reported that the defendants’ dog escaped from their backyard and began roaming around the neighborhood. During his escapade, he ran into the plaintiff, who was walking her dog. The defendants’ dog ran towards the plaintiff’s dog, who tried to run and wrapped her leash around the plaintiff’s ankles. The plaintiff subsequently fell and broke two bones in her left leg.
Allegedly, the plaintiff then filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendants, arguing they were strictly liable for her harm under the dog bite law. The jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded her one million dollars. The defendants appealed.
The Comparative Negligence Defense in Dog Bite Cases
The appellate court addressed the issue of whether the trial court erred in precluding the defendants from offering a comparative negligence defense. As the trial court’s decision stemmed from the construction of the dog bite law and the cases interpreting it, the appellate court reviewed the issue de novo.
The court noted that the interpretation of the relevant provision, which stated that god owners shall be liable for any damages done by their dogs to a person or animal, had evolved over the years. Specifically, it explained that initially, courts ruled that it removed the requirement of establishing an owner’s knowledge of a dog’s dangerous propensities, thereby making them insurers of their pets. In other words, it imposed absolute liability that did not hinge on proof of the owner’s negligence.
The court went on to explain that other courts found that the dog bite law imposed strict liability. A plaintiff seeking damages under the dog bite law still needs to prove causation, however. Ultimately, the standard developed by the courts is that a dog owner will be liable for a non-bite injury if the dog took some aggressive or affirmative act that could be said to be the legal cause of an injury. While other statutes allowed for the defense of comparative negligence in dog-bite cases, the court declined to extend that defense to matters involving dog-related damages that did not arise out of bites. Thus, it affirmed the trial court ruling.
Speak to a Dedicated Florida Attorney
Dog attacks can cause physical injuries and emotional trauma, but the law deems dog owners strictly liable for harm caused by their pets. If you were injured in a dog attack, it is smart to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. The Florida personal injury lawyers of Lusk, Drasites & Tolisano, P.A. are dedicated to helping people who suffer harm in the pursuit of damages, and if you hire us, we will advocate zealously on your behalf. You can contact us through our online form or at 800-283-7442 to set up a conference.