Can a Dog Owner Blame a Victim for a Dog Bite in Florida?

Who is liable for a dog bite in Florida? You are at a neighbor’s house with your kids for a play date when your neighbor’s normally friendly dog growls at your three year old daughter before the dog bites her on the hand, causing blood to immediately start streaming down her hand while she screams. Clearly flustered, your neighbor stammers out an apology and says that the dog is always around kids and hasn’t done this before while you quickly gather up your kids and head straight to the hospital to treat the dog bite, barely saying a word to her as you leave.

After a trip to the emergency room and having to undergo thousands of dollars of plastic surgery procedures to try to fix the scar from the incident and keep it from becoming permanent, your daughter is still having nightmares and is scared to be around dogs months later. You file a claim with your neighbor’s homeowner’s insurer in an effort to try to recoup some of the money you have had to spend due to the incident, but receive an inadequate settlement offer from your neighbor’s homeowner’s insurer that does not even begin to cover your daughter’s medical bills, so you hire an attorney and file suit against your neighbor on behalf of your daughter.

Suddenly everything becomes clearer when your attorney speaks with your neighbor’s insurer for the first time. Your attorney is told by the insurance adjuster that your neighbor is now claiming your daughter provoked the dog. You find out from some friends in the neighborhood that your neighbor is even telling other neighbors who will listen that your daughter was taunting her dog prior to the attack and took one of its rawhide bones, provoking the dog into attacking her. Can she really do this? How will this affect your daughter’s personal injury case against your neighbor?

Law Regarding Dog Bites in Florida

Given the prevalence of dog bites in the Sunshine State, Florida law specifically regulates who is considered at fault when a dog bite occurs and what legal defenses are available to a dog owner whose dog bites someone. Under the relevant statute, the owner of a dog that bites someone who is in a public place, or lawfully in a private place, including on the dog owner’s property, is liable for damages suffered by anyone bitten by that dog. This is true regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness. This matters for several reasons in your case. First, given that she invited you and your daughter over for a play date, your neighbor is unlike to be able to make a claim that your you and your daughter were trespassing at the time the dog bite occurred.

Other Defenses to Florida Dog Bite Claims

There can also be other defenses to a dog bite claim under Florida law, but they can be fairly difficult to establish. A Florida dog owner has basically two defenses to a dog bite claim: either to claim the person bitten was trespassing at the time he or she was bitten and/or the comparative negligence of the dog bite victim. Any negligence on the victim’s part of the person bitten that may have caused or contributed to the incident reduces the dog owner’s liability by the percentage that the victim’s negligence contributed to the biting incident. In the example above, the homeowner would likely try to argue that either something you or your daughter did could have provoked the dog and caused the dog to attack your daughter. That argument likely does not even pass the laugh test and probably would be received very poorly by a jury at trial if the claim made it that far. After all, your daughter was only three years old at the time, so a jury likely would expect much more of the dog owner (particularly one with young children of her own who the dog would be used to being around) than the jury is going to expect of a three year old.

Contact the Experienced Personal Injury Attorneys of Schwed, Adams & McGinley Today

If you, your child, or a loved one have been the victim of a dog bite in Florida, contact the experienced personal injury attorneys of Schwed, Adams, & McGinley, P.A. today. Our attorneys have more than 150 years of combined practice representing victims of dog bites and their families. We understand how devastating it can be when someone you love, particularly an infant or a young child, is attacked by a dog, and we do everything in our power to ensure that the dog’s owner compensates you or your child to the maximum extent permitted under Florida law. Therefore, if you, a family member or a loved one have been injured by a pet owner’s failure to properly restrain or control his or her dog or other animal, contact Schwed, Adams & McGinley, P.A today at 877-694-6079 or contact@schwedlawfirm.com for a free consultation.