Florida Laws Regarding Dog Bite Injuries to a Child

In the sunshine state of Florida, where families and their cherished pets coexist, navigating the legal landscape surrounding dog bite injuries, particularly those involving children, becomes paramount. The warm climate and outdoor lifestyle make Florida an ideal place for families, but it also poses unique challenges, especially when our youngest members are at risk. 

Understanding the intricacies of Florida’s laws is not just a matter of legal knowledge; it’s a vital step toward fostering a safe environment for children and pets alike. With a focus on strict liability, these laws underscore the accountability of dog owners for any harm caused by their pets, emphasizing the balance between individual rights and public safety. 

This blog will delve into the core principles of Florida’s dog bite regulations, exploring the nuances of liability, potential criminal repercussions, and the defenses available to dog owners, shedding light on a topic crucial for the well-being of Florida’s communities.

Strict Liability

Florida’s approach to dog bite injuries is rooted in strict liability. According to Section 767.04 of the Florida Statutes, a dog owner is held responsible for any damages inflicted by their dog’s bite, regardless of the dog’s prior behavior or the owner’s knowledge of its potential danger. 

This applies both on public property and on the owner’s premises if the victim is there lawfully. However, the law does not cover other forms of attacks; it specifically addresses dog bites.

This strict liability extends to damage caused by a dog to another dog or animal. It emphasizes that dog owners are accountable for their pets, even if the animal has not displayed aggression before. This legal principle is designed to protect the rights of victims and ensure that owners take responsibility for their dogs’ actions.

Negligence Per Se

In Florida, negligence per se becomes crucial in dog bite cases, allowing victims to pursue compensation when a dog owner violates safety statutes. Examples include leash law breaches or allowing dogs to trespass. Violation of a non-traffic penal statute is deemed negligence per se (DeJesus v. Seaboard Coast Line Railroad Co., 281 So.2d 198, Fla. 1973). 

However, violating a non-penal statute is evidence of negligence but not negligence per se (Richardson v. Fountain, 154 So.2d 709, Fla. 2d DCA 1963). While Florida cases haven’t specifically addressed dog-related laws, exploring negligence per se is crucial for victims.

Liability in Dog Bite Claims Involving Children

When it comes to children, who are unfortunately more susceptible to dog bites, Florida’s laws provide a means for parents to seek compensation for injuries or, in tragic cases, file wrongful death claims. The strict liability standard still applies, and a dog owner can be held accountable if it is proven that they own the dog and the dog bit the child.

Crucially, Florida’s dog bite law doesn’t consider the breed of the dog or its past behavior. However, if a dog has a history of aggression, the state may designate it as “dangerous.” In such cases, additional precautions, like warning signs and secured fencing, are required to prevent further incidents. Failure to take these precautions may lead to claims of negligence, potentially resulting in increased monetary damages for the victim.

Criminal Liability for Dog Owners

Beyond civil liability, dog owners in Florida may face criminal charges in certain situations. If a dog previously deemed dangerous causes the death of another person, the owner could be charged with manslaughter, carrying severe penalties, including imprisonment. In cases where a dangerous dog causes severe injury but not death, the owner may still face fines and up to a year in prison, depending on the circumstances.

It’s worth noting that even if a dog has not been previously deemed dangerous, a dog owner may still face reduced criminal liability, such as fines and the removal of the dog if it inflicts serious injuries on someone.

Section 767.04 of the Florida Statutes outlines the legal framework for dog owner liability, emphasizing the owner’s responsibility for damages caused by their dog’s bite. However, it also includes provisions for the owner to avoid liability if warning signs are posted and if the victim is under the age of six.

Special Considerations for Child Victims in Florida Dog Bite Cases

In Florida, unique rules apply to child victims of dog bites. Children under six are conclusively presumed incapable of negligence that could provoke a dog. For those aged six and older, the jury determines if the child is capable of appreciating and avoiding danger, impacting potential damages. 

Parental supervision is a crucial factor; fault can be apportioned to the parent, reducing compensation from the dog owner. If a parent lacks liability insurance, parental immunity prevents the child from suing, and the lack of insurance bars the dog owner from making a contribution claim against the parent.

Compensation Challenges and the Role of Insurance

While entitlement to compensation exists in the legal framework, the practicality of obtaining it depends on the dog owner’s assets and insurance coverage. A child may be entitled to economic damages (medical bills, lost wages, and future medical expenses) and non-economic damages (pain, suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and mental anguish) if there is applicable homeowner’s insurance coverage.

Insurance companies are well-prepared to defend their clients, making it essential for parents to engage a Florida Child Injury Lawyer to represent their child’s interests. In child injury cases, attorneys and parents share a duty to act in the best interests of the child, ensuring that they receive fair compensation for the damages incurred.

Defenses and Exceptions in Dog Bite Claims

While Florida’s laws favor victims in dog bite cases, dog owners may still employ certain defenses to mitigate liability:

  • Trespassing: If the victim was trespassing on the owner’s property when the dog bite occurred, the dog owner might argue that the victim’s negligence in entering restricted areas reduces their liability.
  • Provocation: Dog owners can claim provocation as a defense if the victim’s actions, such as teasing or mistreatment, lead to the dog’s aggression. The burden of proof for this defense rests with the dog owner.
  • Defense: If the dog was defending its owner or another person, this could be a valid defense. However, the circumstances must align with the principles of reasonable force.

The “Bad Dog” Exception

In Florida, amidst the strict dog bite statutes, a distinctive exception arises in Section 767.04—the “Bad Dog” exception. If the victim is six or older, on the owner’s premises, and a conspicuously posted sign reads “Bad Dog” or “Beware of Dog,” statutory liability may not apply. 

Established in Romfh v. Berman (1951), this exception requires a readable sign in a prominent place, offering notice of potential risks. Crucially, if the victim is too young to comprehend the sign, the exception doesn’t apply (Flick v. Malino, 1978). This unique provision underscores responsible pet ownership and the need for legal counsel for a fair resolution

Reach Out to an Experienced Pompano Beach Dog Bite Lawyer

In the unfortunate event that you or a loved one has experienced a dog bite injury, seeking legal guidance is crucial for navigating Pompano, Florida’s complex laws. Our experienced dog bite lawyers serving Pompano Beach are here to support you through every step of the process. Call our firm today at (561) 800-8000 to schedule a consultation and discuss your case.

At Frankl Kominsky, we understand the challenges you may be facing, and we are committed to advocating for your rights. Our team of dedicated attorneys possesses the expertise to navigate the intricacies of dog bite claims and will work tirelessly to ensure you receive the compensation you deserve. 

Don’t let the aftermath of a dog bite injury overwhelm you—reach out to us for the support and legal representation you need. We are here for you, ready to fight for justice and the well-being of your family.

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