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Understanding Florida Dog Bite Laws

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that each year over 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs. Over 800,000 of these dog bite injuries are serious enough to warrant medical attention. Although many Florida residents see dogs as harmless pets, most Florida attorneys see enough dog bite injuries annually to know that dog bites result in serious personal injury. Dog bites can cause serious emotional and physical damage. Many victims of dog bites need cosmetic surgery and an extensive period of rehabilitation. Most victims need to be tested for – and sometimes treated for – any diseases that a dog had at the time of a bite. Dog bites can cause infection, blood loss, loss of function of limbs, and other serious injuries. In some cases, dogs can attack, sometimes causing fatalities.

Insurers and homeowners need to be aware that more than half of all dog bites occur on the dog owner’s property, according to the CDC. About 4% of all homeowner insurance claims are liability claims. In 2005, about 15% of liability claims dollars paid under homeowner insurance policies were related to dog bites. In 2005, dog bites injuries cost $317.2 million for insurers.15,000 dog bite injury claims were paid by insurers that same year, and the cost of the average dog bite claim was $21,200.

Perhaps because of the serious nature of dog bite injuries, most states have penalties and laws meant to hold dog owners responsible for serious injuries resulting from dog bites. In most states, owners are liable if they knew their dogs tended to bite. In some states, including Florida, owners are “strictly liable.” This means that even if a dog has no prior history of biting, an owner may be held liable for the injuries that a dog inflicts.

However, Florida dog owners are protected by two exceptions. The first is known as “comparative negligence.” Basically, the victim’s percentage of fault is taken into account when determining liability. Secondly, if an owner has a “bad dog” sign, no recovery is available on specific types of dog attacks.

One difficult problem that arises with dog bites concerns children. According to the CDC, children between 5 and 9 years have the highest instance of dog bite injuries. A worrying trend concerning these injuries to minors has to do with the scope of bites. Children who are four years of age or younger are most likely to be bitten in the neck or head area, increasing the possibility of serious or even fatal injury.

Florida law has determined that children under the age of six are presumed to be incapable of comparative negligence. Dog injury victims who are six or older may be held partly at fault in dog bite cases. In these cases, a jury decides whether the child could understand and avoid the danger. In these cases, too, the parents’ role in the injury is often considered, even if the parent is not named as a defendant. If inadequate supervision of a child contributed to a dog attack, the compensation payable may be reduced.

If you or your child have been bitten by a dog, call The Law Offices of Flaxman & Lopez. We can help you understand how Florida dog bite laws affect you and we can help you understand all your legal options. Call 1- 800-535-2962 (1 800 5 FLAXMAN) to arrange for a free, no-obligation consultation.