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Animal Bites

Although cats and dogs may seem like”man’s best friend” and harmless, these animals do sometimes attack people. It is very important from a legal standpoint to keep your pet under control and from attacking another person. Animal attacks can lead to physical and mental injuries to the person attacked.

Injuries from Animal Attacks

Dogs, cats and other household pets still have sharp teeth and strong jaws that help them bite prey as they are still carnivores at heart. Vicious or untrained animals can use these sharp teeth against another person or child, physically injuring them. These attacks can leave the victim with injuries such as:

  • Bleeding/loss of blood
  • Broken/fractured bones
  • Muscle damage
  • Nerve damage
  • Scars
  • Infection

Another common problem associated with animal bites is infection. These bites often occur to the hands, arms and legs where there are many blood vessels near the skin. These bites into the blood vessels can spread bacteria from the animal’s mouth into your bloodstream causing infection and/or making you very sick.

One potentially and common dangerous infection is rabies, which can be deadly to the human victim if allowed to spread. It is also important that pet owners properly vaccinate their pets against rabies so that they cannot spread it to humans, even if the pet did bite.

Florida Follow a concept of “strict liability for dog bites, meaning that the owner is strictly liable for any bites caused by their pet.

Florida’s dog bite statute imposes strict liability upon dog owners for a bite that causes injury to a human being. Section 767.04 states as follows:

The owner of any dog that bites any person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, is liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners’ knowledge of such viciousness. However, any negligence on the part of the person bitten that is a proximate cause of the biting incident reduces the liability of the owner of the dog by the percentage that the bitten person’s negligence contributed to the biting incident. A person is lawfully upon private property of such owner within the meaning of this act when the person is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him or her by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when the person is on such property upon invitation, expressed or implied, of the owner. However, the owner is not liable, except as to a person under the age of 6, or unless the damages are proximately caused by a negligent act or omission of the owner, if at the time of any such injury the owner had displayed in a prominent place on his or her premises a sign easily readable including the words “Bad Dog.” The remedy provided by this section is in addition to and cumulative with any other remedy provided by statute or common law.

The “Bad Dog” Exception to Liability Under Fla. Stat.

The Florida dog bite statute, 767.04, has an exception that states that there is no liability under the statute if the dog bite victim is 6 years of age or older, the bite occurred on the dog owner’s premises, and those premises contain a conspicuously posted sign stating the phrase “Bad Dog.” The exception applies if the sign says “Beware of Dog.” Romfh v. Berman, 56 So.2d 127 (Fla. 1951). The sign must be in a prominent place and easily readable, so as to give actual notice of the risk of bite to the victim. Carroll v. Moxley, 241 So.2d 681 (Fla. 1970). If the victim is too young to read the sign, then the exception does not apply. Flick v. Malino, 356 So.2d 904 (Fla. Court of Appeal, 1978).

Children and Dog Bites

Two issues often come about when a child is the victim of a dog bite.

First is the issue of comparative negligence, when the child’s acts/conduct provoked the dog, thus the child being a cause of the accident and reducing the recovery. Florida has found that a child under 6 years old is presumed to be incapable of committing such negligence. Swindell v. Hellkamp, 242 So.2d 708 (Fla. 1970). When the child is 6 years or older, the jury decides whether the child was capable of appreciating the danger and being able to avoid the danger. Turner v. Seegar, 151 Fla. 643, 10 So.2d 320 (1942).

The second issue is whether the injured child’s recovery should be reduced by a parent failing to adequately supervise the child, thus making the parent a cause of the accident. The jury is entitled to apportion fault to the parent, even where the parent is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit. Y.H. Investments, Inc., v. Godales, 690 So.2d 1273 (Fla. 1997).

Landlord Liability for Dog Bites on Premises

A landlord has a duty to protect its tenants when landlord has knowledge of a vicious dog on the premises. The Florida 4th DCA stated: A landlord who recognizes and assumes the duty to protect co-tenants from dangerous propensities of a tenant’s pet is required to undertake reasonable precautions to protect co-tenants from reasonably foreseeable injury occasioned thereby.” White v. Whitworth, 509 So. 2d 378, 380 (Fla. 4th DCA 1987); see also Vasquez v. Lopez, 509 So. 2d 1241 (Fla. 4th DCA 1987) (holding that landlord may be liable for tenant’s dog if landlord knows dog is vicious and has sufficient control of premises to protect plaintiff).

When a lease agreement specifically prohibits particular breeds of dogs, the landlord can be liable if these rules are not enforces knowing one of these breed are on the premises. In Ramirez v. M.L. Management Co., Inc., 920 So.2d 36 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005), the landlord was aware that a tenant’s pit bulls had threatened other persons on the premises, but the landlord did nothing to remedy the situation. When the dogs attacked a child on a neighboring property, the landlord was held liable.

There might not be liability where the dog bite victim is a trespasser or exceeded their invitation to be on the property. In Anderson v. Walthal, 468 So. 2d 291 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985), a woman went to a personal residence for a business purpose and when she went around the back of the house a dog bit her. The landlord aruged that the woman had exceeded her invitation by wandering into the backyard where the dog was. The court claimed that the woman had exceeded her “invitation” by wandering into an area behind the home where the dog was located.

Negligence and Alternative Causes of Action

Negligence is another ground for liability in Florida, which is the lack of ordinary care. Negligence, one of the common law remedies, are an alternative to the dog bite statute in Florida. Stickney v. Belcher Yacht, Inc., 424 So. 2d 962 (Fla. Court of Appeal, 1983).