A Dog Bit My Child. Will the Insurance Company Automatically Compensate My Family?
Every year, dogs bite about 4.5 million Americans. Many of these victims are children between five and nine. Furthermore, in most of these incidents, the attack occurred in a familiar environment, such as a friend’s home.
These attacks cause physical and emotional injuries. Physically, dog bites often cause both deep puncture wounds and severe tearing lacerations. Furthermore, the knockdown alone might cause broken bones and a head injury. Emotionally, children are especially prone to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other lingering problems.
Because of these issues, a Brandon personal injury attorney might be able to obtain substantial compensation in these cases. But the insurance company is not legally required to pay in all cases.
Strict Liability Claims
Florida has a limited strict liability law. Owners, and therefore homeowners insurance companies, are liable for bite damages as a matter of law. The only recognized defense is contributory negligence, which is outlined below. The assumption of the risk defense usually does not apply. In strict liability claims, the dog’s viciousness, or lack thereof, is irrelevant.
Strict liability claims are relatively easy to prove in court. However, damages are often limited. Owners are only liable for bite injuries. The strict liability law does not cover the aforementioned knockdown injuries. Furthermore, many Hillsborough County jurors do not award large damages in strict liability cases, since the owner was arguably not at fault. Most jurors are pet owners themselves, or they at least know people who are pet owners.
Dog Bites and Negligence
Typically, compensation is a bit higher in negligence claims. However, such claims are harder to prove in court.
First, victim/plaintiffs must prove the owner knew the dog was potentially dangerous. Evidence of knowledge includes things like:
- Loud barking,
- Aggressive lunging,
- Baring of teeth, and
- Previous attacks.
Those previous attacks could have been against animals or people. However, prior attacks against people is much stronger evidence of knowledge.
Next, victim/plaintiffs must prove the owner was negligent. Essentially, negligence is a lack of care. Allowing a child to play in the same room or yard as a dangerous dog is probably not negligent in this context. Allowing a child to play next to a dangerous dog might be negligent.
The good news is that a little evidence goes a long way. The burden of proof is only a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
Assumption of the Risk and Contributory Negligence
Warning signs like “Beware of Dog” make it easier to establish the assumption of the risk defense. This legal doctrine excuses liability if the victim:
- Voluntarily assumed
- A known risk.
Most children voluntarily go to a friend’s house. However, even if there was a sign in the yard, the risk might not be a known one. Many children have limited reading and comprehension skills. They either cannot read the sign or cannot understand what it means.
This defense also comes up in other premises liability matters, like falls and swimming pool drownings.
Contributory negligence shifts blame for the bite from the owner to the victim. Generally, dog bite contributory negligence involves provocation. Insurance companies frequently argue that the child provoked the animal.
As a preliminary matter, young children cannot provoke animals as a matter of law. Generally, six is the age cutoff.
Older children might provoke a dog, but legal provocation is not easy to prove. Essentially, “provocation” is synonymous with “torture.” The child must have inflicted so much physical pain on the animal that the animal was compelled to defend itself. Sudden movements and intentional teasing may be unwise, but they are not provocative.
Rely on Experienced Attorneys
Child dog bite victims might be entitled to substantial compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced Brandon personal injury lawyer, contact Reed & Reed, Attorneys at Law. We have four area offices (St. Petersburg, Lakeland, Tampa, and Clearwater).