Dog Bite Injuries by the Numbers
Estimated Number of Dog Bite Victims (2001-2003)
Total Insurance Claims Paid for Dog Bites (2019)
Estimated ER Visits for Dog Bites (2018)
Over 20k Children Hurt Each Year
Dogs are known as man’s best friend. There are 77 million dogs in America providing love, happiness, and companionship to over 38% of households.
However, dogs are still animals with pack instincts and genetic traits. Whether it’s defending its territory or reacting to a stressful situation, whether provoked or unprovoked, all dogs have the capacity to bite and injure humans.
According to the CDC, children ages 5–9 have the highest rate of dog-bite–related injuries, with children ages 0–4 and adults 25–29 close behind.
Of the estimated 4.5 million people bitten by dogs each year between 2001 and 2003, the majority (81%) had no severe injuries. However, the other 2.6 million victims may have experienced permanent scarring, muscle damage, or infections that required extensive medical treatment and reconstructive surgery.
Legally speaking, dog bite injuries are different from other premises liability cases in Florida such as slip and fall accidents. And knowing how these cases differ is critical since, with 1,268 claims filed in 2019, Florida had the second-highest rate of reported dog bite injuries in the country. Also, Florida’s average payout for dog bite claims in 2019 was $53,603, almost $10k higher than the national average of $44,760.
Regardless of the former behavior of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of a dog’s aggressiveness, Florida dog owners are liable for damages caused by their dogs biting someone. So, if you have been bitten and injured by a dog or other animal, you should speak to a lawyer immediately to discuss your legal options.
6 Steps to Take After an Animal Attack
Before we dive into Florida’s laws and other minutiae, let’s take a minute to go over the steps you should take if you are bitten by a dog or other animal. You may be shocked, scared, or worried, but in the wake of a vicious attack, you should take these steps immediately both to ensure your safety and to protect your legal rights:
Step 1: Protect Yourself
Though relatively rare, most fatal dog attacks happen when there is no able-bodied person nearby to intervene. So, if you aren’t able to fend off an attack on your own, yell for help.
Step 2: Get Medical Help
Once the attack is over, clean your wounds with soap and water as soon as possible to reduce the risk of infection. Some of the bacteria that can be transmitted via a dog bite is extremely hazardous even deadly to humans. Then be sure to seek professional medical attention either from your primary care provider or at the emergency room if your injuries are severe.
Step 3: Find the Animal and Owner
You, a friend, or an eyewitness should try to locate the animal or its owner. Identifying the animal and the owner is critical for receiving compensation from an insurance claim. You will want to collect owner’s contact information as well as any information about the animal’s vaccination records and previous attacks. Ask for copies of the dog’s rabies vaccination records and the homeowners or renters insurance policies.
Step 4: Document the Scene
As soon as it’s safe to do so, you should begin documenting the incident. Documentary evidence can play a crucial role in proving that a dog was off-leash at the time of the attack, was on public property, or was otherwise behaving in a particularly vicious manner.
- Take pictures of anything and everything you can: the surrounding area, your injuries, your clothing, and (if possible) the animal.
- Collect video or pictures from any nearby security cameras, traffic cameras, or cell phones that may have captured the attack.
- Make sure you also collect names and contact information for any eyewitnesses.
Step 5: Report the Attack
Report the dog or animal attack to appropriate parties: the owner, the insurance company, law enforcement officials, and animal control. You may also want to contact the homeowners or condo association. Animal control officials will conduct an investigation and determine whether to quarantine the animal or label it as a dangerous dog. The homeowners or renters insurance company will begin the process of filing a claim.
Step 6: Contact a Lawyer
Because dog bite injury laws are complex, cases can cross jurisdictions, and claims often involve multiple parties, it’s vital that you consult with a professional dog bite lawyer about your legal options. Moreover, victims represented by an attorney are more likely to be treated fairly and receive higher compensation.
Pro Tip: Until you’ve spoken with a lawyer, you should never give a statement to an insurance company, discuss money, settlement amount, or injury value, or sign any documents. The insurance company is not your friend, and their main goal is to minimize your compensation.
Florida Dog Bite Laws
Chapter 767.04, Florida Statutes, outlines the laws regarding liability for dog bites. Most importantly, a dog owner is liable for injuries caused by the dog even if the dog has never hurt anyone before or been aggressive in the past:
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.
The above excerpt also makes clear that owners are liable for incidents on private property so long as the victim has their express or implied permission to be there or is performing a legally obligated duty (police, postal workers, etc.).
However, any actions taken by the victim that caused the dog to bite, e.g. taunting or poking, can reduce the owner’s liability as per the “comparative negligence” doctrine:
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.
If the dog has displayed aggression in the past or has previously injured someone, the owner may post a “Bad Dog” sign to try to mitigate their liability. But if the dog bite was due to the owner’s negligence or if the victim was under 6 years old, the signage doesn’t matter:
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.”
Additional City and County Regulations
Individual cities and counties also have ordinances that apply to dogs. Such ordinances can result in fines or other penalties for dog owners, and your dog bite lawyer can use these additional regulations to strengthen the case against the dog owner.
Broward County, for instance, has specific “leash laws” as does Miami-Dade County, that require all dogs outside to be under the control of a person by a leash or chain or confined to the property by a fence. Moreover, several communities in the Boca Raton area (in Palm Beach County) have bans in place for certain dog breeds, and they do not allow animals that have ever aggressively bitten, attacked, or severely injured a person or domestic animal.
What Damages Can You Recover from a Dog Bite?
Dog bites can lead to serious injuries, especially for younger victims. Typical injuries sustained from a dog bite attack include:
- Nerve damage
- Broken bones
- Rabies infection
- Pasteurella infection
- MRSA infection
- Tetanus infection
According to the CDC, nearly 18% of dog bite victims suffer bacteria or virus infections. Rabies, although rare, is an especially serious disease and is fatal if not treated immediately.
If you have suffered any of these injuries, you have the legal right to seek compensation. As with other personal injury lawsuits, recoverable damages from dog bite injuries fall into three categories: economic damages, non-economic damages, and punitive damages.
These are monetary losses that the victim has incurred in the past or will incur in the future. Economic damages are typically concrete and easily proven:
- Medical Expenses: Emergency room visits, hospitalization, reconstructive surgery, physical therapy, prescription medications, and assistive devices (e.g. wheelchairs) can all be necessary to help you recover from a serious dog bite injury. The medical expenses you incur (and are likely to incur in the future) are recoverable damages—including mileage to and from appointments!
- Lost Wages: There are 80.4 million hourly workers in the U.S. Dog bite injuries can prevent these employees from returning to work while they seek medical attention or as they are recovering. In some cases, future lost wages may also be recoverable.
- Property Damage: Less important than in car accidents, but you will also be able to claim any damage to your personal property that was a result of the dog bite.
- Funeral Expenses: In the worst-case scenario that the dog bite resulted in the death of the victim, funeral and other expenses would be recoverable. However, you would be bringing a wrongful death lawsuit rather than a personal injury lawsuit.
Non-Economic or General Damages
Often referred to as “pain and suffering” damages, non-economic damages are a broad category of injuries cannot be easily quantified. They include future harms that lack specific dollar values. You and your lawyer will assign values to these items by their impact on your quality of life.
- Loss of Capacity of Earn: Some dog bite injuries may result in a long-term absence from work or even a permanent inability to work or to return to a current job. This is known as a loss of “capacity to earn,” and dog bite victims can be compensated for this loss of future earnings.
- Loss of Consortium: Consortium is Latin for “partnership” or “close connection.” These damages are recoverable when the injuries result in the loss of love, affection, companionship, parenting, care, or sexual relationship. Spouses and close family members can be compensated for the loss of consortium.
- Pain and Suffering: Florida law allows dog bite victims to recover damages for “pain, suffering, mental anguish, and inconvenience,” but only if the victim has been permanently injured. Pain and suffering damages usually see the highest compensation.
As the name suggests, punitive damages exist solely to punish the wrongdoer and to deter others from similar bad behavior in the future. In instances where the dog owner acted egregiously or there is a history of past conduct, dog bite victims may be able to claim punitive damages.
Strict Liability Claims
Normally, an injury victim would be required to prove negligence to receive compensation. However, dog bite cases in Florida are governed by the theory of “strict liability.”
When a strict liability claim is filed, the victim is not required to prove the defendant (in this case, the dog owner) was negligent. Instead, dog bite victims only need to show that the defendant owned the dog that attacked them in order to recover damages.
Pro Tip: The strict liability framework only applies to dog bites. Injuries caused by a dog or other animal knocking someone over would require the standard victims to prove standard negligence.
Barriers to Recovery from a Dog Bite Injury
As we briefly mentioned above, Florida makes use of the “comparative negligence” standard for most personal injury cases. This standard means that anyone (including the victim) who shares fault for an injury can be held proportionally responsible for the damages.
Therefore, if your own negligence or actions were the proximate cause of the dog bite, your ability to recover compensation will be reduced by the amount of fault attributed to you. So, if the total damages were $10,000, but it was determined that you were 50% to blame for the dog bite, you would only be able to recover $5,000.
Dog Owner’s Defenses Against Liability
Dog owners or their attorneys will put forward defenses to reduce their own liability for the injuries. Florida law recognizes a handful of instances in which the dog owner is not liable for a dog bite:
- The victim was trespassing or on the property without consent,
- The victim provoked the dog or instigated the attack,
- The owner provided conspicuous notice of risk (see above),
- The dog was defending itself, its owners, territory, or puppies from attack.
Again, these exceptions do not apply if the victim is under 6 years old, and dog owners still bear full responsibility for dog bite injuries to small children.
Insurance May Deny Claims
Finally, your compensation may be affected by the insurance company’s refusal to pay claims. In fact, many homeowners and renters insurance policies have begun to include exceptions in their policies for dog bites and animal attacks.
If this is the case, your lawyer will seek compensation from the owner of the animal directly or other applicable parties.
Why You Should Hire a Dog Bite Lawyer
If you are here, chances are that you or someone you love has been injured by a dog bite or animal attack. We are truly sorry that you are going through this, and we sincerely hope that you and your family recover and that you can return to your normal lives as soon as possible. We also want to help you make smart decisions about your case so you can choose right dog bite lawyer for you and get on the path to full recovery—physically, emotionally, and financially.
Unfortunately, without a dedicated personal injury lawyer on their side, dog bite victims often don’t recover the full amount of damages to which they are entitled. When thinking about hiring a lawyer for your dog bite injury claim, keep a few points in mind:
Insurance companies see it as their job to avoid paying you
They have teams of highly trained adjusters and lawyers—and very deep pockets—all focused on keeping your claim as small as possible. You need someone in your corner, who also has experience and training, to take on the insurance company.
The insurance company’s bag of tricks is ineffective on a legal expert
By hiring a personal injury attorney, you force the insurance company to deal with an experienced legal professional who won’t be coerced or fooled into taking a low-ball offer. You will significantly increase your chances of recovering just compensation and of achieving a favorable resolution to your case.
Your peace of mind is critical for recovery
Worrying about missing deadlines, gathering testimony, and responding to insurance companies is only going to stress you out and make your physical recovery take longer. Having a personal injury attorney represent you means that you aren’t filing motions, taking statements, or conducting depositions. You can focus on recovering from your injuries.
If you or a family member has been severely injured by a dog bite or animal attack, hire an experienced dog bite attorney who will guide you through the claims process. The insurance company will have attorneys and insurance adjusters on their side to protect their interests—so should you.
The personal injury lawyers here at Personal Injury & Accident Law Center would love to speak to you about your case and tell you how we can help you get on the path to recovery. Call us today or fill out the form below to schedule a free consultation.
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