Florida Dog Attacks: Does Signage Relieve Liability?

Your neighbor has a dog that always barks when you walk past her fenced-in yard; she has a big “Beware of Dog” sign on the fence. The dog goes crazy every time you and your kids walk anywhere in the vicinity of her house, even if it is across the street, and this scares not only your kids, but you as well.  It seems like just a matter of time before someone is hurt by this dog, which is an aggressive breed commonly used as a watchdog in the security industry.

Unfortunately, it turns out to be you.  The mailman mistakenly drops off a number of letters addressed to your neighbor along with your mail one day and, trying to be a good neighbor, you walk over to your neighbor’s house to just slip them in her mailbox.  As usual, the dog is out and, despite your careful attempts to open her mailbox while standing as far away from the fence as possible, the dog manages to get his muzzle through the fence.  He bites your hand and arm multiple times as you attempt to put the letters in her mailbox, forcing you to withdraw your bleeding hand, rush home and go to the emergency room for treatment for your injuries.  Eventually you recover after several surgeries, but not before racking up thousands of dollars in healthcare costs from both the hospital and your follow-up visits to a hand surgeon.  Despite all the treatment, you also have some residual scarring that likely will never go away.  You confront your neighbor one day about the incident, but she tells you “I am not worried. I had a beware-of-dog posted, so I am protected.  Plus, I did not even ask you to return those letters to me.  Go ahead and sue me if you want to.”

If you go on someone else’s property and are bitten by a dog, then a sign that warns someone to beware of that dog is not a get-out-of-jail-free card for the dog’s owner.  Simply posting such a sign does not provide a dog owner with a foolproof defense under Florida law if the person’s dog bites and injures another person.  A dog owner can assert the presence of a beware-of-dog sign as a defense, but the person who was attacked can challenge whether the sign gave adequate notice of the dangers of the dog, where the incident took place and a number of other situation-specific factors.  It is not quite the foolproof defense that your neighbor seems to think.

Law Regarding Florida Dog Attacks

The scenario of a dog biting someone is so common that the Florida Legislature has specifically enacted legislation relating to liability for dog bites.  Under Section 767.04, Florida Statutes, the owner of a dog that bites someone who is in a public place, or lawfully in a private place, including the dog owner’s property, is liable for damages suffered by anyone bitten by that dog, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness. However, 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.

However, a dog’s owner is not liable, except as to someone under 6, or unless the incident occurred as a result of the owner’s negligent act or omission, if at the time of the dog bite the dog’s owner had displayed in a prominent place on his or her premises a sign easily readable including the words “Beware of Dog” or “Bad Dog.”  The sign must be in a prominent place and easily readable to give actual notice of the risk of bite to the victim.

In plain English, what this law says is that, if you have a dog, then you are responsible for it.  This includes if it bites someone who enters your property or if someone who is on public property is bitten by your dog.  Putting up a sign warning of your dog’s dangerousness may be a defense to a dog bite claim, but there are all sorts of complicated issues that go along with the assertion of this defense, including whether the sign was adequate or not, if it was posted in a place that was prominent, where the person was bitten (i.e. on your property or in public, etc.)  That is to say, simply because someone puts up a sign that says “Beware of Dog” or “Bad Dog” does not mean that person is automatically off the hook for whatever injuries his or her dog caused to another person.  This would be particularly true in a scenario like that described above, where the dog bite victim was technically on public property (a sidewalk) when reaching her hand into the dog owner’s mailbox to return some letters when she was bitten.  Like any dog bite, this is a fact-intensive scenario in which the dog’s owner may have a defense as a result of the sign warning of the dog’s nature, but the success of this defense is not a sure thing and will ultimately be decided by the jury.

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

If you, your child, or a loved one have been the victim of a Florida dog attack, 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 if it is you yourself or even an infant or young child, is attacked by a dog, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that the dog’s owner compensates you 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.