Insurance Company Defenses in Dog Bite Claims
Since doctors better understand the nature of dog bite injuries, the compensation in these cases has increased over 75 percent since 2003. For example, physicians now know that many victims experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms after these incidents. PTSD is a permanent brain injury which requires months of therapy to overcome.
While substantial compensation is available, a Brandon personal injury lawyer must work very hard to obtain it. The insurance company has a posse of hard-working layers as well. Their only mission is to reduce or deny the amount of compensation the victim/plaintiff receives. To accomplish this goal, they can rely on several legal loopholes.
Not Responsible for Damages
Florida has a strict liability dog bite law. Owners are liable for bite damages whether or not they knew the animal was potentially dangerous. In other words, they must pay damages whether they were negligent or not, at least in most cases.
But Section 767.04 only applies to bites. The knockdown may cause as much injury as the bite, especially if the victim is a child and especially in terms of things like broken bones, head injuries and PTSD. To obtain compensation for these injuries, the victim/plaintiff must use an alternative theory, such as:
- Negligence Per Se: Brandon and most other Florida municipalities have very strict animal restraint laws, like leash laws. If the owner violated one of these laws, and the violation substantially caused the victim/plaintiff’s injury, the owner may be liable for all damages as a matter of law.
- Scienter: This Latin word means “knowledge.” If the owner knew the animal was potentially dangerous, the owner may be liable for all animal attack injuries. Evidence of knowledge includes things like prior attacks against people or animals and aggressive barking just before the attack.
In court, the victim/plaintiff must establish liability by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). Evidence in a dog bite claim includes the victim’s own testimony, eyewitness testimony, and medical or unpaid repair bills.
In claims which occur off the owner’s property, insurance company lawyers often try to use the provocation defense. But provocation means more than sudden moves, approaching the animal, or even verbal teasing.
In this context, victims provoke animals when they inflict so much physical pain on the animal that a violent response is justified. In other words, provocation is almost synonymous with “torture.” If the victim/plaintiff’s conduct did not rise to that level, and it probably did not, the provocation defense is unavailable.
Assumption of the Risk
On-property claims usually involve the assumption of the risk defense. Signs like “Beware of Dog” introduce this doctrine, which has two elements:
- Voluntary assumption of
- A known risk.
Many times, a “Beware of Dog” sign is almost invisible. It is behind a tree or shrub or it is not big enough to see from a distance.
Other times, the victim/plaintiff’s reading or English skills are so limited that the victim cannot read the sign or understand what it means.
Connect with Tenacious Attorneys
Despite available defenses, dog bite victims may 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).