If other people injure you, they may be liable for your injury– that is, required by law to pay for damages related to your injury. But what happens if a dog injures you? The dog cannot pay a medical bill, so who will? In Florida, the answer is often, but not always, the owner. In any case, you should contact an experienced personal injury legal group, such as Oldham & Smith, Attorneys at Law, for legal assistance.
Under What Conditions is the Dog’s Owner Liable for My Injury?
The dog owner is typically liable for your injury if all of the following conditions are met:
- The dog directly caused your injury.
- The dog owner had custody (legal guardianship) of the dog at the time of the incident. This may apply to dog-sitters, dog shelters, landlords, etc. If the dog owner is a minor, then the parents may be liable.
- You were not trespassing on private property.
- You did not see a “Bad Dog” sign on the premises of your injury.
- It’s been less than four years since the dog injured you.
If your negligence inspired the dog’s misbehavior, e.g. if you accidentally stepped on the dog, then the dog owner may only be partially liable for your injuries. An experienced legal team, like Oldham & Smith, can help you argue that the dog owner is liable, or at least mostly liable in a case of partial liability.
I’m a Dog Owner – What Should I Do in Advance to Avoid Liability?
Florida is a “strict liability” state, meaning that the law assumes you are aware that your dog may inflict injuries on others. Unlike in other states, the injured person doesn’t need to prove that you were aware of the dog’s “dangerous propensities” when the injury occurred. Training the dog may help to decrease, but not eliminate, the probability of the dog attacking. The most effective step to avoid liability is to prominently display a “Bad Dog” sign on your property. This wording is specifically dictated by Florida law, so don’t expect that your “Beware the Dog” sign will immunize you from liability; seek a sign that says “Bad Dog” verbatim. The “Bad Dog” sign will protect you from liability for injuries your dog inflicts to others on your private property as long as the person the dog injured is at least six years old. Florida law does not expect those under six to understand a “Bad Dog” sign, so take particular care to protect young children on your property from your dog. Moreover, younglings are particularly vulnerable to dog-related injuries because they have a less-developed instinct for handling a hostile encounter with a dog; from 2005 to 2017, nearly half of Americans who died due to a dog bite were under the age of ten. Note that other acts of negligence, such as encouraging the dog’s misconduct, may void the protections of a “Bad Dog” sign and precipitate punitive (additional) charges. If you get caught up in a homeowner’s liability case, you should contact an experienced legal team, like Oldham & Smith, who can help defend you in court.