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"Dog at Large" and "Vicious Dog"
On February 19, 2009, we received a "not guilty" verdict at a civil infraction hearing when we represented a Tampa man who had received two citations for his pit bull named Kenya for allegedly committing the following two offenses:
- "Dog at large" pursuant to Section 10 of the Hillsborough County Animal Ordinance 00-26103-8; and
- "Vicious dog" pursuant to Section 9A of the Hillsborough County Animal Ordinance 00-26103-8.
The fine for the "dog at large" citation was $120.00 if the man did not contest the citation. The maximum fine for the offense is $500.00. The fine for the "vicious dog" citation is $520.
If You Want to Admit the Dog is Vicious
For a first citation, if you elect not to contest the citation, the fine can be reduced to $25 by doing the following and showing proof of compliance before the hearing day:
- Watch an animal serviced educational video;
- Provide proof of the neutering or spay of the animal;
- Obtain a certificate from a veterinarian for a new health examination after the date of the vicious or aggressive incident.
- Complete individual dog obedience training by an approved instructor;
- Have a microchip inserted into the animal; and
- Provide proof of vaccination and registration of the animal.
However, by paying the citations, you are admitting the "dangerous propensities" of the animal and admitting liability for any subsequent civil lawsuit for damages that resulted from the alleged "dog bite" incident.
In this case, the dog's owner hired a Tampa dog bite defense attorney from the Sammis Law Firm to represent him at a hearing to contest the citations. Although the firm focuses exclusively on criminal defense, the "dog bite" cases are very similar. A Tampa dog bite defense lawyer is essentially defending the dog (and the dog's owner) against an allegation that the dog is vicious.
The Facts of This "Dog Bite" Case - Contesting the Allegation
After such an allegation, the owner of the dog will also receive notification of dangerous propensities from the Office of the County Administrator for for Hillsborough County, FL. In this case, the basis for the dog being taken by animal control was an allegation that the dog had bitten a guest at the house during a Halloween party at the owners residence. The owner contested the charge saying that the guest was intoxicated when he arrived at the party, and that his injuries were not a result of a dog bite. Several witnesses at the party alleged that the man had falled down after he had fallen on the front porch while he was being escorted off the property after starting a fight with another guest.
After the animal is taken by animal control, the owner often feels like the animal is on "doggy death row." Having an attorney defend you against a dog bite allegation may ultimately save you money, and it may ultimately save your dog.
Pursuant to Florida Statute 767.01, the owner of a dog can be held liable for any damage done by their dog during a dog bite incident. Furthermore, under Florida Statute Section 767.13(2), the owner can be found guilty of a second degree misdemeanor even if the dog has not been declared a "dangerous animal," if an attack causes severe injury or death to a person when the owner has prior knowledge of the dog's danerous propensities, yet the owner nevertheless exhibits a reckless disregard for such propensitites. Finally under Florida Statute 784.05(1), an owner, through culpable negligence, exposes another person to personal injury can be found guily of a second degree misdemeanor.
Getting the Dog Released from "Doggy Death Row"
The person who alleged that he was bitten by the dog made a complaint the next day. After an investigation, animal control took the dog for a week while it investigated the incident. The dog was returned to the owner after his lawyer provided animal control with a list of several witnesses at the party who all indicated that the allegations against the dog and the dog's owner were false.
The Trial and Not-Guilty Verdict
The owner of the dog was found "not guilty" at a civil infraction hearing before the Honorable Nick Nararetian, Judge of the Civil Infraction Court of Hillsborough County, in Tampa, FL, on February 19, 2009. At the hearing, the Tampa dog owner's lawyer presented both testimony and evidence showing that the allegations were not true. After Judge Nararetian returned the not guilty verdict, the notification of dangerous propensities became void.
Information Upon Request Zone
If you and your dog have been falsely accused in a "vicious dog" or "dog bite" incident, contact an attorney at the Sammis Law Firm to discuss your case before you pay the citation.
Collateral Consequences of a Vicious Dog Citation
If the judge finds that your dog is vicious then numerous consequences attach. First, your home owner's insurance may be effected. You pay be required to post signs around your property warning others about the dog. When you go to the vets office, you must notify the vet's office in advance that you have a vicious dog. If any other bite occurs then you can be sued in civil court for money damages and potential prosecuted in criminal court for felony charges.
The bottom line is that if your dog is found to be a vicious dog, then the only rational decision is to destroy the dog. The potential criminal and civil liability is too great to keep the dog even if you really believe that the dog is not vicious. If destroying the dog is not an option, then you should take the citation seriously and hire an experienced attorney to fight the allegation.
Hillsborough County Animal Services - Rabies Program Home Quarantine
Under Florida law, owners of animals involved in bite or exposures are required to quarantine their animals for rabies for a minimum of ten days. The Hillsborough County Health Department or Animal Control may authorize home quarantine for certain animals for 10 days or even longer. Contact the Hillsborough County Animal Services, 440 Falkenburg Road, Tampa, FL 33619 at 813-744-5660 for more information or visit www.hillsboroughcounty.org/animalservices for more information.
Help Avoid Being Sued Over an Alleged Dog Bite or Vicious Dog Incident
Many personal injury law firms represent people who have allegedly been bitten by a dog on a contingency basis to collect civil damages and attorney fees under the dog owner's home owner insurance policy. Your home owners insurance may or may not be liable for any claim.
These civil lawsuits often create a financial incentive for someone to make a false or exaggerated claim of damages in a "dog bite" case. The other side may have an experienced personal injury attorney for the dog bite case, make sure that you are also represented by an experienced defense attorney if you wish to contest the citation.
Find out more about fighting a false allegation in a "dog bite" case for Hillsborough County by calling us at 813-250-0500.
Read a recent news article about Hillsborough County's Dog Court - "Dog Court" and Nick Nazaretian - Tampa, Hillsborough County.
Better yet, watch the entertaining YouTube video from truTV about a recent cases in which a individuals defends themselves against an allegation about her dog being vicious and "on the loose" (the attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm were NOT involved in this case. We display the videos here only for informational purposes):
Watch the video on an alleged "Cat at Large":
Sec. 4-34. - Vicious animals and dangerous dogs.
(a) Vicious animals. No person shall allow a companion animal, when unprovoked, to bite, attack, endanger, or inflict injury on a human, domestic animal, or livestock while on public or private property; or chase or approach an individual upon the streets, sidewalks, or any public grounds in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack. Violations of this section may constitute proof of "prior knowledge of a dog's dangerous propensities" under section 767.13(2), Florida Statutes (2002), as may be amended.
(b) Dangerous dogs. The provisions of chapter 767, Florida Statutes (2002), as may be amended, pertaining to dangerous dogs are adopted in their entirety as a part of this article. All procedures, regulations, requirements, and restrictions pertaining to dangerous dogs are applicable under this article, and a violation of the statute shall constitute a violation of this article. Each day the owner of a dangerous dog fails to comply with the requirements of this section or requirements of section 767.12, Florida Statutes (2002), as may be amended, shall constitute a separate and distinct offense.
(1) Dangerous dogs.
a. If the owner wishes to appeal the initial decision of the department to a hearing master, he or she must file a written request with the department director for a hearing within seven (7) days from the date of receipt of the notice of intent to declare the dog dangerous. If requested, a hearing shall be held as soon as possible but not more than twenty-one (21) calendar days and no sooner than five (5) days after the department's receipt of the request.
b. After a dog has been classified as dangerous or a dangerous dog classification is upheld on appeal, the owner of the dog must obtain a certificate of registration from the department within fourteen (14) days, and the certificate must be renewed annually. The department will only issue certificates of registration and their renewals to individuals who are at least eighteen (18) years of age, pay the appropriate fee, and present sufficient evidence of the requirements provided for in section 767.12, Florida Statutes (2002), as may be amended. In addition to those requirements, the dog's owner must:
1. Sterilize the dog within thirty (30) days of being declared dangerous; and
2. Register for, and attend to completion, dog obedience training from an instructor approved by the department; and
3. Provide the department proof of a current health certificate for the dog issued by a veterinarian; and
4. Have the dog micro-chipped and registered to the owner at his or her current address; and
5. Post approved signage obtained from the department at intervals determined by the department and at all entrances to the property; and
6. When outside its proper enclosure, dangerous dogs must be muzzled, restrained by a substantial chain or leash, and under control of a competent person. In addition, the use of a physical control device such as a passive head restraint collar or harness recommended by the department is required; and
7. Provide access to property and the dog for no less than two (2) inspections annually by the department to verify compliance with the provisions of this article and chapter 767, Florida Statutes (2002) as may be amended; and
8. Receive training provided by the department on responsible pet ownership of dangerous dogs.
c. The department may provide notification to appropriate neighbors and the public advising them of the presence of a declared dangerous dog. Photographs of the dog may be used in providing the public with internet access to dangerous dog information.
d. The Department may confiscate any dog classified as dangerous for euthanasia as a result of the owner's failure to comply with any or all requirements of chapter 767, Florida Statutes (2002), as may be amended, or any requirement of this section. Should the department confiscate any dog under this section, notice of sufficient cause to confiscate the animal shall be provided in writing to the owner in accordance with section 767.12, Florida Statutes (2002), as may be amended. The animal shall be held for ten (10) business days after the owner is provided this written notice and thereafter destroyed in an expeditious and humane manner. This ten-day time period shall allow the owner to request a hearing under section 4-40.11 of this article.
e. Any dog that is exempted from the provisions of chapter 767, Florida Statutes (2002), as may be amended, shall be exempt from the provision of this section of the article.
f. Any person who owns, harbors, or otherwise provides custody for a dangerous dog shall be responsible for any damage or injury caused by that dog, including, but not limited to, veterinary or medical bills or property damage.
(2) Dangerous dog/severe injury; second attack.
a. If a dog previously declared dangerous attacks or bites a human being or a domestic animal without provocation, in accordance with section 767.13, Florida Statutes (2002), as may be amended, the owner is guilty of a criminal offense.
b. The owner shall be responsible for payment of all boarding costs and other fees as may be required to humanely and safely keep the dog during the pendency of any hearing or appeal procedure, as well as any and all investigative fees accrued by the department.
c. If the owner files a timely written appeal, the department may not destroy the dog while the appeal is pending, except to prevent unnecessary suffering as determined by two (2) veterinarians.
(Ord. No. 00-26, § 9, 6-28-00; Ord. No. 03-8, § 2, 6-4-03)