Legal Options Following Animal Attacks
Each year, dogs bite over three million Americans. Frequently, a large breed animal attacks a small child. As a result, the knockdown alone could cause a permanent head injury. Then, when dogs bite, their teeth cause deep puncture wounds and severe tearing wounds. This combination usually requires reconstructive surgery. Child victims often suffer emotional wounds as well, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Hillsborough County victims usually have several legal options to obtain compensation for their medical bills, pain and suffering, and other injuries. In some cases, a Brandon personal injury attorney need not even prove negligence or fault. Some of these major options, along with their pros and cons, are outlined below.
Florida has a limited strict liability law. Pet owners are responsible for dog bite damages regardless of any extenuating circumstances. This law removes the leading owner defense in dog bite cases, which is lack of knowledge of viciousness.
Provocation and illegal presence, two lesser defenses, are available. In this context, “provocation” has a very narrow meaning. Sudden movements, loud noises, or even aggressive teasing do not provoke animals to attack. Instead, the victim must inflict so much physical pain on the animal that a violent response was the only way out. Most people are legally present, unless there was a “no trespassing” sign.
So, strict liability claims are relatively easy to prove. However, many jurors award limited compensation in strict liability claims. They often believe the owners did nothing morally wrong and so any compensation they pay is more like a financial penalty. Additionally, the law only applies to bite injuries, not to knockdown or other attack injuries.
Negligence is basically a lack of care. However, unless the owner knew the animal was potentially dangerous, the standard of care is rather low. It’s usually not negligent to allow a child to play near a strange dog. It might be negligent to encourage a child to play closer to the dog by saying something like “don’t worry he doesn’t bite.”
Scienter (knowledge) is a subset of ordinary negligence. Owners are responsible for all damages, and not just bite-related damages, if they knew the animal was potentially dangerous. Evidence of knowledge includes:
- Prior attacks against people or animals, and
- Pre-bite behavior, like aggressive barking and sudden lunging.
Negligence defenses, such as assumption of the risk, are available in negligence claims. This defense usually involves a “Beware of Dog” or other warning sign. If the victim could see the sign, read the sign, and understand its meaning, the court might reduce compensation or deny compensation altogether.
Negligence Per Se
Brandon and other municipalities have very strict animal restraint laws. These rules usually include leash laws and fence laws.
If the owner violated one of these laws and the violation substantially caused injury, the owner might be responsible for damages as a matter of law. These violations include technical violations, like an insufficiently-long leash or a fence that was too short.
When available, negligence per se claims may be the best approach. The doctrine is easy to prove in court with minimal evidence. And, many jurors believe that owners who ignore animal restraint laws are reckless. Additionally, only limited defenses are available. Owners are often hard-pressed to explain why they did not comply with such laws and therefore put other people at risk.
Reach Out to Aggressive Attorneys
Dog bites often 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).