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In the Sunshine State of Florida, where countless families share their lives with four-legged companions, dog bite incidents remain more common than most think. According to recent statistics from the Insurance Information Institute, Florida ranks among the top states for dog bite injuries, with 1,345 claims reported in 2017. 

This comprehensive article will take a closer look at Florida’s Dog Bite Laws. We’ll delve into the timeline for filing dog bite claims, explore dog owner responsibilities, and examine the regulations surrounding Florida’s Dangerous Dog Laws. We’ll also discuss why Florida prohibits breed-specific legislation promoting responsible pet ownership. Further, you will learn about the civil and criminal penalties for dog bite incidents, the essential steps to take if a dog has bitten you or someone you know, and how to secure a well-qualified attorney for your case. 

Statute of Limitations in Florida for Dog Bite Claims

Floridians have two years from the incident to file a dog bite claim. It’s crucial to adhere to these timelines, as exceeding the limit can result in losing your legal right to seek compensation for injuries and damages. 

Promptly filing a claim allows for a thorough investigation, evidence collection, and a fair opportunity for justice. Waiting too long may hinder your chances of compensation for medical expenses, pain, suffering, and other losses incurred due to a dog bite. 

Liability Standards and Negligence in Florida Dog Bite Cases

Florida follows a strict liability standard when it comes to dog bite cases. Under Florida Statutes Section 767.04, the “dog bite statute,” dog owners are held strictly liable for injuries their dogs inflict, regardless of the dog’s previous behavior or the owner’s knowledge of its propensity to bite. In other words, the owner is responsible for damages if their dog bites someone in a public place or lawfully on private property, like a postal worker on duty. 

Liability Beyond Bites

While the strict liability statute primarily pertains to dog bites, owners can also be held responsible for other injuries or damages caused by their dogs if they were negligent in controlling or supervising the animal. This broader liability may apply if, for example, a dog knocks someone over, causing injuries. 

Determining liability in these instances is based on the principles of negligence law, which require demonstrating that the dog owner was negligent in controlling or supervising their dog. This may be the result of a leash law violation, the owner’s failure to control their dog, or an overall lack of supervision.

Dog Owner Responsibilities in Florida

In Florida, dog owners bear significant responsibilities regarding their dogs’ behavior and containment to prevent dog bite incidents and potential legal liabilities. Owners are legally obligated to exercise reasonable care and control over their dogs to ensure the safety of others. These responsibilities include:

  • Leash and Containment: Dogs should be leashed or contained within a secure enclosure in public spaces or on the owner’s property. Failure to do so can result in liability for any injuries the dog may cause.

  • Supervision: Owners must supervise their dogs to prevent aggressive or dangerous behavior. If a dog exhibits a propensity for aggression, the owner should take appropriate precautions, such as muzzling or professional training.

  • Warning Signs: Owners should display clear warning signs if their dog has a history of aggressive behavior. This serves as a precautionary measure to alert others to potential risks. 

Potential Defenses for Dog Owners in Florida

Despite these responsibilities, dog owners may have certain defenses available in dog bite cases, including the following:

  • Provocation: If a victim provokes a dog, causing it to bite, the owner may argue that the victim’s actions contributed to the incident. However, provocation must be significant and not a reasonable response to the dog’s behavior.

  • Trespassing: If a person is unlawfully on the owner’s property when bitten, the owner may use trespassing as a defense. However, this defense may not apply if the victim had a legitimate reason for being on the property, such as a mail carrier or invited guest.

  • Assumption of Risk: In some cases, if a person voluntarily accepts the risk of interacting with a known aggressive dog without coercion, the owner might argue that the victim assumed the risk of potential injury.

Breed-Specific Legislation

In a progressive move for animal welfare and responsible dog ownership, Florida has taken a strong stance against breed-specific legislation. In June 2023, the state enacted a comprehensive ban on breed-specific legislation at the state and local levels. 

The primary motivation behind this ban is twofold. First, it addresses the needless surrender of pets to animal shelters. This type of legislation often leads to the discrimination and stigmatization of certain dog breeds, prompting owners to relinquish their pets for fear of legal consequences or housing restrictions. By abolishing it, Florida can reduce the strain on its animal shelters, promoting responsible pet ownership. 

Second, Florida’s stance reflects a commitment to fostering inclusive communities for all breeds. Breed-specific legislation is often criticized for unfairly targeting specific breeds, like pit bulls, and perpetuating stereotypes. By eliminating these laws, Florida aims to create a more equitable environment where dogs are judged based on their behavior rather than their breed, fostering a culture of tolerance and understanding in local housing municipalities. 

Florida’s Dangerous Dog Law

Under Florida Statutes Section 767.11, dog owners possessing dogs deemed dangerous due to their behavior must follow specific regulations. The critical points of these statutes include the following:

  • Definition of a Dangerous Dog: In Florida, a dangerous dog has aggressively bitten, attacked, or severely injured a person without provocation on public or private property. This label also applies to dogs severely injured or killed by a domestic animal while off the owner’s property and without provocation.

  • Owner Responsibilities: If a dog is classified as dangerous, its owner must:

    • Register the dog with the local animal control authority.

    • Provide proof of public liability insurance or surety bond between $25,000 and $50,000 to cover any potential damages resulting from future acts of the dog. 

    • Keep the dog securely confined indoors or in a locked enclosure, and when outside, muzzle it and restrain it with a leash no longer than four feet.

    • Post visible warning signs indicating the presence of a dangerous dog.

  • Incidents Involving Dangerous Dogs: If a dangerous dog attacks and causes severe injury or death to a person, the owner may face criminal charges, including a felony charge. The dog may be euthanized, or other measures may be taken to ensure public safety.

It’s important to note that specific regulations and enforcement of dangerous dog laws may vary by locality in Florida. These laws are in place to protect public safety and hold dog owners accountable for the behavior of their pets, particularly those with a history of aggression or dangerous actions. 

Civil Penalties for Dog Bites in Florida

In Florida, civil penalties for dog bites are typically determined through civil litigation rather than predefined statutory penalties. When a dog bite occurs, the injured party may file a civil lawsuit against the dog owner seeking compensation for their damages, which can include:

  • Medical Expenses

  • Pain and Suffering

  • Lost Wages

  • Property Damage

The determination of civil penalties depends on various factors, including the extent of the injuries, the victim’s economic losses, and the circumstances of the incident. Establishing the dog owner’s liability is essential, which can be based on negligence or strict liability. 

Enforcement of these penalties occurs through the civil court system. The injured party initiates the lawsuit by filing a complaint, and both parties present their evidence and arguments during the legal proceedings. The court then determines liability and assesses damages based on the evidence and applicable law.

Criminal Penalties for Dog Bites in Florida

Criminal penalties for dog bites in Florida typically apply in cases of severe injuries or fatalities resulting from a dog attack. The specific criminal penalties are determined based on the circumstances of the incident and the laws applicable to the case, but the following are some key points to keep in mind:

  • Misdemeanor Charges: If a dog attacks and causes non-severe injuries or minor harm to a person, the owner may face misdemeanor charges. This could result in penalties such as fines, probation, or community service.

  • Felony Charges: In cases where a dog attack leads to severe injuries or even death, the dog owner may face felony charges. The specific charges and penalties can vary, including felony animal cruelty, manslaughter, or other related charges. 

  • Criminal Negligence: Determining criminal penalties often hinges on criminal negligence. If it can be proven that the dog owner’s actions or inactions demonstrated reckless disregard for the safety of others, criminal charges may be pursued.

In cases where criminal charges may be warranted, law enforcement agencies usually investigate the dog bite incident to make the final determination. The local prosecutor’s office decides to prosecute. If charges are filed, the case proceeds through the criminal justice system. 

It’s essential to emphasize that criminal penalties for dog bites in Florida are relatively rare and typically reserved for cases involving severe injuries, fatalities, or extreme neglect or abuse. The majority of dog bite cases are civil matters.

Reporting and Handling Dog Bite Incidents

In a dog bite incident, taking immediate steps to ensure safety, proper medical care, and legal protection is crucial.

  1. Seek Immediate Medical Attention: Regardless of the severity of the bite, prioritize your health. Wash the wound with soap and water to reduce the risk of infection and seek medical treatment promptly. Even minor bites can lead to complications.

  2. Identify the Dog and Owner: Gather information about the dog and its owner, including their contact details and the dog’s vaccination history. 

  3. Report the Incident: Notify local law enforcement and animal control authorities about the dog bite incident. They can document the event and investigate if necessary. Obtain a copy of the incident report for your records.

  4. Document Injuries: Take photographs of your injuries and keep records of all medical expenses and treatments related to the dog bite. This documentation can be crucial for insurance claims or legal proceedings.

  5. Consult an Attorney: Consider seeking legal counsel, especially if your injuries are significant. An experienced personal injury attorney can help protect your rights and pursue compensation for your damages.

Remember that immediate action can be essential in ensuring your well-being and protecting your legal rights after a dog bite incident. Consulting with legal and medical professionals is highly recommended to navigate the aftermath effectively.

How To Find a Dog Bite Attorney in Florida

Seeking legal assistance is fundamental when pursuing compensation for a dog bite. An experienced personal injury attorney can navigate complex laws, negotiate with insurance companies, and build a strong case on your behalf. 

To find the right attorney quickly, consult our personal injury lawyer directory. You can access the most qualified and experienced attorneys in your metro area in just a few clicks. This ensures you have the best legal representation, increasing your chances of securing the compensation you deserve for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other damages resulting from your dog bite. Don’t face the legal complexities alone; consult a skilled attorney to protect your rights.

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