Common Legal Claims in Dog Bite Cases
When animals attack, the owner’s commercial, renters, or homeowners insurance policy usually covers the victim’s damages. The per-claim limits on these policies are usually between $100,000 and $300,000. Those ceilings are much higher than many auto insurance policies.
In many vehicle collision claims, the tortfeasor (negligent driver) is either uninsured or underinsured. But these issues are hardly ever a factor in dog bite claims. So, a Brandon personal injury attorney can usually obtain maximum compensation without resorting to complex legal procedures.
This compensation usually includes damages for economic losses, such as medical bills, as well as noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering. These damages vary, largely depending on the facts of the case and the legal theory advanced in court.
Under Florida law, owners are responsible for the above damages as a matter of law if their animals bite. There is no need to prove negligence or knowledge. So, from a liability standpoint, a strict liability claim is the way to go.
But Section 767.04 is limited to bites. Most animal attacks involve more than just bites. When large dogs lunge at small victims, these victims often sustain broken bones, head injuries, and other wounds. Sometimes, these preliminary injuries are worse than the bite injuries themselves. Under a strict liability claim, compensation for these injuries may be limited. That’s especially true for noneconomic damages, such as emotional distress.
Additionally, many Hillsborough County jurors consider this law punitive against dog owners. So, they are even less likely to award significant damages.
Nevertheless, the strict liability law is an excellent option if the bite seriously injured the victim, the dog had no history of violence, and the owner was not completely irresponsible.
This Latin word means “knowledge.” Many of the most financially successful dog bite claims use the one-bite rule. Owners are liable for damages if they knew their animals were potentially vicious. Evidence of knowledge includes:
- Prior Attacks: This type of evidence is the most compelling evidence of knowledge. Courts are split as to whether only prior attacks on people count, or whether prior attacks against other animals should be considered as well. Additionally, insurance company lawyers may be able to present evidence of subsequent remedial measures, such as taking a dangerous dog to obedience school, in these cases.
- Pre-Bite Activity: Until recently, most courts did not consider evidence like aggressive barking, baring of teeth, and menacing growling. Now, some judges are more willing to allow this evidence, so jurors can weigh it for themselves.
Maximum compensation is usually available in these cases, but they are much harder to prove than strict liability claims. Victim/plaintiffs must prove actual knowledge of prior violent behavior, and that is a difficult burden. Nevertheless, if the facts support the claim, this risk is usually a worthwhile one.
Negligence Per Se
Brandon and most other Florida municipalities have very strict animal restraint laws, such as leash and fence laws. In some cases, these city ordinances even require dog chains. In the absence of such a law, Florida state law usually controls.
If owners violate these laws, and that violation substantially causes injury, the owner may be liable for damages as a matter of law. Victim/plaintiffs need only prove causation.
Assumption of the risk could be a defense in these claims. For example, if a child plays with a large unrestrained dog in a backyard, an attorney may be hard-pressed to establish liability. Assumption of the risk is a defense in other claims as well, most notably the strict liability claims mentioned above. In that context, assumption of the risk usually begins with a “Beware of Dog” or other warning sign.
Count on Dedicated Attorneys
Dog bites usually cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Brandon, contact Reed & Reed, Attorneys at Law. We have four area offices (St. Petersburg, Lakeland, Tampa, and Clearwater).