The attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm represent dog owners who are given a citation for having a "dangerous" or "vicious" dog in the courts throughout the Tampa Bay area, including in Tampa, Hillsborough County, FL. In certain cases, we also represent dog owners sued for damages in state court. After a dog bite occurs, it is important to retain counsel to avoid the drastic sanctions and liability that can otherwise occur. Call 813-250-0500 to discuss your case directly with an attorney if you wish to retain counsel to help you resolve these difficult cases.
Florida law generally imposes a strict liability standard on the owners of dogs that bite or injure a person or another animal. The Florida legislature recognized that this remedy was particularly harsh. Although not expressly stated in all of the strict liability dog bite statutes, numerous defenses exist to these claims which allow the owner of the dog to avoid or limit the liability.
Florida Statute Section 767.01 - Dog Bite or Dog Attack Statute
Florida Statute Section 767.01 does not include any reference to either the "comparative negligence" defense or the bad dog sign defense. Section 767.01 was enacted long before the Florida legislature enacted 767.04. Why would the newer statute list these important defenses, when the statute 767.01 does not?
The Courts have settled this issue by holding that the defenses contained in Florida Statute Section 767.04 also apply equally to dog bite claims under Florida Statute Section 767.01.4.
Only Two Defenses Apply to Florida's Strict Liability Dog Bite Statute
The only two defenses available are listed in Fla. Stat. § 767.04. No common law defenses are applicable.
Comparative Negligence - When the Person or Animal Bitten is at Fault
Under Florida law, once the dog owner makes an affirmative showing that the dog was provoked, then the dog owner can seek to avoid or limit liability for any dog bite, attack, or other injury under the comparative negligence standard. Asserting this affirmative defense requires a showing that the person or animal bitten or otherwise injured was at least partially at fault for the injury.
When the person or animal bitten is the proximate cause of the bite or attack, then that negligence can eliminate the dog owners liability, or at least limit the liability in certain cases.
Florida Statute 767.04 provides:
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.In fact, the former version of Florida Statute Section 767.04 included the following phrase:
no owner of any dog shall be liable for any damages to any person or his property when such person shall mischievously or carelessly provoke or aggravate the dog inflicting such damage.If the person or dog bitten engaged in such behavior which caused the incident, then that behavior would constitute comparative negligence under the newer version of Florida's dog bite statute.
Under the more recently enacted version of the dog bite statute, the Florida legislature wanted to increase the available defenses which would allow the owner to reduce or eliminate the liability for a dog bite case in certain instances.
Under the older version of the dog bite statute (although still applicable now), the court in Donner v. Arkwright-Boston Manufacturers Mutual Insurance Company, 358 So. 2d 21, 24 (Fla. 1978) held as follows:
the legislature apparently felt that good morals dictated that if a person kicks, teases, or in some other way provokes the dog into injuring him, he should not be compensated.Under the old statute the defense of provocation or aggravation of the dog acted as a complete defense, under the new statute those defenses trigger the "comparative negligence" standard to limit liability by the percentages of the injured person's own fault (or the fault of another dog the case of an injury to another dog that occurs during a dog fight).
Therefore, the general principles of negligence cases also apply to the dog bite statute, which otherwise provides for strict liability against the owner of the dog.
"Bad Dog" Sign
Under Florida law, the second defense is that a dog owner is not liable for certain damages related to a dog bite or other injury when the owner has prominently displayed a "Bad Dog" sign, although this defense does not necessarily apply when a child under the age of six years old is bitten, attacked or injured.
The attorneys at the Sammis Law Firm understand that any time a dog is accused of vicious or dangerous behavior, the owners of the dog need to act quickly to protect their rights and limit there liability so that the case can be fairly resolved for everyone involves. If you need to retain an attorney in your case, contact us to discuss the particular facts that occurred.