Strict Liability – Who Let the Dogs Out?

November 7, 2016 | Attorney, Matthew Dolman
Strict Liability – Who Let the Dogs Out?

A common ice breaker on the first date is “are you a cat person or a dog person?” People who love dogs often portray them as loyal companions who chase tennis balls and fetch the morning newspaper. On the other hand, the “cat people” might try to point out the vicious tendencies of dogs. The reality; however, is both assessments of dogs are true, and indeed the violent tendencies and the loyal companionship are often why people choose to employ dogs to guard their homes and businesses.

When a dog causes personal injury, many questions can arise. What happens when you get bitten by a dog? Who is responsible for the injury? Does it matter if the owner knew or intended the dog to be violent? What if the dog was merely protecting its owner or the owner's home? Dog bites are specifically addressed in Florida law1 and are handled differently than other injury cases.

Typically when you are injured, if you wish to seek retribution from another for your injuries, you need to prove that the individual either negligently or intentionally caused the harm. Proving negligence requires proof of a duty which is breached by the party – for instance, the local ordinance may require that a dog owner keeps their dog on a leash. This ordinance creates a duty. Failing to keep the animal on a leash would then constitute a breach of that duty. If the breach resulted in an injury, then that person would be liable. However, dogs sometimes have a mind of their own and regardless of the owner's actions or inactions, the dog may inflict harm on another. It is for this reason that Florida law places the owner of a dog strictly liable for harm that is caused by the dog meaning the victim of a dog bite can recover for injuries without as many hoops to jump through.

Proving Liability Under Florida Law

If you are bitten by a dog, in most cases you may recover against the dog owner simply by proving:

  • That person is the owner of the dog,
  • The dog directly caused the injury, and
  • The injury occurred on or in a public place or while lawfully on or in a private place.

Establishing ownership of the dog that bites you is a very important and not always easy task. The law provides very little insight into the definition of “owner,” which leaves ambiguity. Thus when bringing a case for strict liability, it is important to establish who the actual owner is. Some examples of what does not qualify as an owner include:

  • Employees, such as security guards, who are assigned a dog as part of their position.
  • Kennels or others responsible for looking after pets who temporarily have them in their possession.
  • People upon whose land the dog resides.

While the task is not as easy as it sounds, with a thorough investigation you should be able to assign an owner to the dog. After the owner is established, you will need to prove that the dog caused your injuries.

In the case of a dog bite, causation is pretty clear because the bite is an aggressive action by the dog. Aggressive acts include:

  • Biting
  • Barking
  • Chasing
  • Jumping

Aggressive acts do not have to involve touching by the dog. If a person retreats because of a growling dog and is injured as a direct result of that retreat, the owner is likely liable for that injury. Causation can also be established by less direct affirmative actions of the dog. These actions involve the dog doing something that directly leads to the injury. One common example is when a dog runs into traffic, forcing a car to swerve to avoid hitting it. Any injuries caused by the affirmative act of the dog subject its owner to liability. If an injury would not have happened if the dog was out of the equation and resulted because of the acts of the dog, the dog owner may be liable for the injuries. This opens up a broad range of injuries.

Finally, there is a “guard dog” exception to the strict liability rule which requires that the injury occur while the injured party was in or on a public place such as sidewalks or parks, or lawfully in or on a private place either by duty of law, such as an emergency rescuer or government worker, or through explicit or implicit permission by the owner. There is some ambiguity about what constitutes implicit permission. One who is on the property of another strictly for their own convenience may fall under the category of trespasser for purposes of the dog bite law. Where you were and why you were there will become important issues in the event of an injury caused by a dog.

If you have been injured contact a Clearwater dog bite attorney today

When dogs are involved, your rights to recovery significantly broaden, however, there are several tricky issues that you will need to navigate regarding ownership, causation, and place. The experienced injury lawyers at Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA can help you maximize your recovery. Call (727) 451-6900 today for a free consultation.

Dolman Law Group Accident Injury Lawyers, PA
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765

(727) 451-6900



Matthew Dolman

Personal Injury Lawyer

This article was written and reviewed by Matthew Dolman. Matt has been a practicing civil trial, personal injury, products liability, and mass tort lawyer since 2004. He has successfully fought for more than 11,000 injured clients and acted as lead counsel in more than 1,000 lawsuits. Always on the cutting edge of personal injury law, Matt is actively engaged in complex legal matters, including Suboxone, AFFF, and Ozempic lawsuits.  Matt is a lifetime member of the Million Dollar Advocates Forum and Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum for resolving individual cases in excess of $1 million and $2 million, respectively. He has also been selected by his colleagues as a Florida Superlawyer and as a member of Florida’s Legal Elite on multiple occasions. Further, Matt has been quoted in the media numerous times and is a sought-after speaker on a variety of legal issues and topics.

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