For most responsible pet owners, dogs are a joy, as they can bring life and love to a family. It is easy, therefore, to forget that dogs are also animals and they require extensive care, training, and monitoring in order to lead a safe and healthy life. Unfortunately, there are many who do not put the necessary time and effort into caring for and training their dogs, which can lead to severe dog bite injuries to innocent guests and bystanders.
Florida Dog Bite Laws
Florida law1 specifically addresses owner liability for dog bites. It states that an owner is liable if his or her dog bites another person on public property or while that person is lawfully on private property, including the owner’s property, regardless of whether the dog had shown vicious tendencies in the past. This is slightly different than the law in many states, which will not hold dog owners liable if, prior to the biting incident, there were no indications that the dog had any prior vicious tendencies. This is commonly referred to as the “one free bite rule.” For example, if the owner of a dog in New York witnessed the dog growling, snapping, barking, or constantly pulling at the leash before a biting incident, it would have been clear that the dog had vicious tendencies and the owner would be liable for that bite. In Florida, it is not necessary that a dog show any vicious tendencies in order to hold an owner liable for a dog bite.
However, Florida does take into consideration a victim’s negligence in dog bite cases. If a victim walked up to a dog that was clearly acting viciously or provoked the dog to act, such as by stepping on its tail or taunting the dog, then the owner’s liability will be reduced by the negligence of the victim. It is also true that a dog owner is not liable for a dog bite – unless the victim was a child under the age of 6 – if the owner had a “dangerous dog” sign clearly visible and the victim assumed the risk of entering the property. The only exception is if the owner of the dog was negligent, such as if the owner was holding the dog back but clearly did not have the strength to stop the dog from attacking the victim.
Typical Dog Bite Injuries
Each year nearly 4.5 million dog bite injuries occur in the United States. The most common injuries are to the flesh and include puncture wounds at the site of the bite. Typically, this results in bleeding, bruising, pain, stiffness, soreness, and eventual scarring, but shallow wounds that are properly cleaned, bandaged, and treated with anti-bacterial creams will typically not result in serious injuries. Deeper wounds, however, such as those from larger dogs whose teeth can penetrate flesh and muscle, will likely require a trip to emergency room. In this case, such a bite might have affected the ligaments, muscles, and bones, and would need to be deep cleaned by a professional. Further, you will likely require stitches for deep penetrating wounds.
Complications Arising from Dog Bite Injuries
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention,2 the primary complication arising from dog bite injuries is an infection, which occurs in one of five dog bite cases. The most common diseases and infections suffered as a result of dog bite injuries are as follows:
Rabies: A virus that spreads to the brain and is almost always fatal. It can be transferred from the saliva of an infected dog through a dog bite;
Capnocytophaga spp.: A type of bacteria that lives in a dog’s mouth and can be spread through a bite, especially to those with weakened immune systems;
Pasteurella: The most common type of bacteria found in infected dog bites, which can cause pain, redness, and swelling at the puncture site;
MRSA: A deadly type of bacteria that is resistant to many strains of antibiotics and will not show symptoms in infected animals; and
Tetanus: A toxin caused by certain bacteria that can cause paralysis in people who are not vaccinated. This is a problem especially if the bite wound is deep.
Although some complications, such as rabies, tetanus, and MRSA can cause serious medical conditions and even prove fatal, many other infections may cause tissue death at or near the infection site, which could require amputation in order to prevent the disease’s spread to vital organs.
Liability for Dog Bite Injuries
Liability under the Florida dog bite statute is rather strict. This means that unless you provoked the dog in some way or were trespassing on the dog owner’s property, the owner will be liable for compensating you for your injuries, pain, and suffering. This may also include punitive damages depending on the circumstances surrounding the bite. A vicious attack by a dangerous breed of dog that the owner had reason to know was violent may result in greater compensation to you, as the law will seek to punish that dog owner to a greater extent. A shallow bite, however, from a dog that was simply scared by a noise and had demonstrated no viciousness in the past might not result in a jury awarding a large sum in punitive damages. It is wise to have an experienced personal injury attorney analyze the facts of your case.
Contact a Clearwater Dog Bite and Personal Injury Attorney Today
Dog bites can leave not only physical, but also emotional scars, and dog owners who have not demonstrated responsible habits in training and caring for their dogs should be held liable to the fullest extent of the law. If you or a loved one have experienced a serious dog bite in the greater Tampa Bay area, in addition to seeking medical attention in order to prevent serious infections, it is essential to contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your case. The Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA can help you get the compensation you deserve after a dog bite. Their attorneys are your premier personal injury lawyers in Clearwater, and they are here to fight for your rights. Contact them today at (727) 451-6900 for a free, no-risk consultation.