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Dog Attacks: What Happens When Fido Bites

By Brent C. Miller, Esquire

We walk them, run and play with them, and are entertained by the occasional game of "fetch." When we have a bad day, we are greeted with unconditional affection, tail wagging and eyes reflecting undying loyalty. Man's best friend comes in all shapes and sizes ranging from poodles to Great Danes. Regardless of the breed, Florida law provides certain protection when Fido causes injury to you, your family members or guests in your home.

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    Dog attacks in Florida

    According to the Florida legislature, dangerous dogs are an increasingly serious and widespread threat to the safety and welfare of the people of our state because of unprovoked attacks which cause injury to persons and domestic animals, and that such attacks are in part attributable to the failure of owners to confine and properly train and control their dogs. As a consequence, Florida law imposes liability upon dog owners.

    As is typical for any state government, laws are imposed to protect the economy and those engaged in activities that provide for the common good. For instance, an owner or keeper of any dog that kills, wounds or harasses any dairy cattle is liable to the owner of such dairy cattle for damages caused by the dog. In such a situation, it is not necessary to prove that the owner of the dog has prior knowledge that the dog is dangerous or mischievous.

    Similarly, owners of sheep are likewise protected. According to Florida statutes, it is unlawful for any dog known to have killed sheep to roam about over the country unattended by the keeper of the dog. Any such dog found roaming unattended shall be deemed a "run-about dog" and it is lawful to put down such a dog.

    Owners Can Be 'Strictly Liable'

    Obviously, laws have been passed which also cause dog owners to be liable when their dogs cause injury to people. A common misperception believed by many is that "every dog gets one free bite." Such is not the case in Florida. According to Florida Statutes Section 767.04, "the owner of any dog that bites any person when such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on another's property (including the property of the dog owner), is liable for damages suffered by the person bitten, regardless if the dog has bitten prior to the attack or if the dog owner knows that the dog is dangerous or vicious." In other words, the owner of a dog is "strictly liable" for damages caused when his or her dog bites another. It is not necessary to prove that the owner of the dog was negligent in any way. The dog owner may, however, avoid liability if the person bitten provoked the dog.

    The law does provide certain protections to dog owners. For instance, if a dog owner posts a sign on his property that says "BAD DOG," a person bitten must prove that the dog owner was negligent in some way and that such negligence led to the dog attack.

    In order to impose liability on a landlord who leases his property to a dog owner whose dog bites another, it must be proven that the landlord knew the dog is vicious and permitted the dog to live on the leased property. Without such a showing, the landlord is not responsible for the actions of the tenant's dog.

    Simply put, do not provoke or tease another's dog, keep your dog on a leash when out in public, post your "BAD DOG" signs and take adequate safeguards to ensure that those on your property are safe if your dog is a bit aggressive or protective.

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