When a dog attacks you or a loved one, it reminds you that dogs are animals capable of causing serious harm, not just loving family pets. Americans have nearly 70 million canine pets. Dog owners often treat their dogs like family members, and children may not always recognize the danger that a dog can pose. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), any dog can bite. AVMA statistics show that children are attacked more frequently than any other population group, but adults with dogs in their households are frequent bite victims as well.
A dog bite is an aggressive attack that frequently results in injury. The CDC Dog Bite Prevention Page explains that most dog bites aren’t serious. In fact, only 20 percent require medical treatment, but severe cases can be life-threatening. When dogs bite, their front teeth grab onto and compress the victim’s flesh and frequently cause puncture injuries. Both front and rear teeth produce irregular wounds. In the case of a severe attack, a dog bite results in deep flesh, muscle, and nerve injuries. While many people understand the connection between dogs and rabies, the CDC cites dog bites as the source of several other infectious diseases that require immediate medical attention.
Seriously injured dog bite victims usually begin their treatment in the emergency room. They may also need overnight hospitalization, physical therapy, and multiple scar revisions. While recovering, injured victims may face long-term recovery complications. Oftentimes, medical bills mount, and if the victim sustained a disabling injury, lost wages are also a serious financial concern.
Aggressive Dogs in Ft. Lauderdale
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) explains that aggressive dog behavior can occur for a number of reasons. Dogs may become hostile over territories, protection, fear, or other issues. When a vicious dog seriously injures or threatens you, behavioral or environmental explanations don’t excuse an owner’s failure to prevent injury. Instead of pushing for stricter dog regulations, many dog bite prevention and education efforts place the safety burden on the humans involved in the confrontation. For example, the Humane Society of Broward County warns children to freeze and stand quietly if confronted by a dog.
Florida and Broward County laws impose guidelines for dog owners. They must take responsibility for any damage caused by a dangerous dog. However, these self-policing guidelines don’t always work to prevent attacks. For this reason, Ft. Lauderdale news outlets frequently advocate for more stringent enforcement of dog regulations as a way to prevent further incidents. Below are some of the recent news reports that involve dog attacks.
- A local woman sustained defense wounds while protecting her small dog from two attacking pit bulls.
- When a golden retriever bit a 10-month old, paramedics airlifted the child to a Fort Lauderdale hospital for treatment.
- One Ft. Lauderdale community reports that unsupervised dogs are terrorizing the neighborhood. Residents stay inside because dogs chase them and attack their pets.
- A dog bit an 11-year old when he tried rescuing his dog from an attacking neighbor dog. The child required hospitalization and surgery.
- During one local attack, a man recalls fighting for his life. Three pit bulls attacked him while he was walking down the street. The dogs injured his feet, legs, and face causing serious injuries that required hospitalization.
Dog Owners Are Responsible for Their Dogs’ Bad Behavior
At Sibley Dolman, we believe that dog owners should pay for injuries caused by their pets. Our Fort Lauderdale dog bite attorneys work hard to make sure our clients receive fair compensation. We understand complex dog bite liability, criminal, and damage issues. We believe our clients deserve personal attention, so we strive to be widely available. We answer our clients’ questions and address their concerns in a timely manner and with compassion. While we cannot guarantee a favorable result in your case, our legal team has recovered millions of dollars in personal injury settlements for our clients in the past. We do what it takes to resolve our clients’ cases so that they can concentrate on their recovery.
Our Firm’s Past Success
Our firm regularly secures favorable outcomes for our clients due to our dedication to diligent work, knowledge, and experience. In the past, we’ve resolved our clients’ cases with aggressive negotiation and mediation efforts, and we strive to always do what’s in our clients’ best interests, whether that means settling or taking a case to trial. While we can’t guarantee a favorable outcome in your case, our firm has a strong track record, as indicated by our past success.
Common Injuries Caused by a Dog Bite?
Most dog bite victims receive minor scratches and lacerations, but a severe attack can cause complicated injuries and severe health conditions. When a dog’s teeth tear a victim’s flesh, they often create jagged injuries that require surgical repair. Deep puncture wounds can damage muscles and bones, and damaged or severed nerves may leave a victim with diminished functioning and decreased sensation. Whether injuries are minor or severe, bite victims also risk contracting infectious diseases, including rabies, MRSA, and tetanus. Physicians treat dog-related infections with antibiotics, often intravenously. In rare instances, dogs inflict fatal injuries.
Scars pose a problem for both old and young dog bite victims, especially when wounds are jagged or irregular. Some dog bites heal with keloid scarring, a tissue overgrowth that creates revision challenges. The most recent statistics from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reveal that, nationally, 28,991 dog-bite victims underwent scar revision procedures in 2016.
Children Are the Most Vulnerable Dog Attacks Victims
FloridaHealth.com reports that children between ages one and nine present the highest dog bite risk among population groups. Young children often don’t understand a dog’s inherent animal danger, and may only see them as playmates or friends, which leaves the children vulnerable. A child’s short stature often places them at a dog’s level, which means the child’s face, neck, and upper body become easy targets. Children often sustain injuries because they don’t understand that touching a dog while it’s eating or playing can trigger aggression. Furthermore, half of dog bite victims in children 15 and older occurred while breaking up a dog fight.
As a child is smaller and frailer than an adult, a dog bite can cause more severe damage. Even a simple puncture wound may result in serious complications. When a dog’s teeth penetrate a child’s frail skin, they can injure bones and muscles. Dog bite-related infections challenge a young immune system and extend hospital stays. When a child’s injuries heal, they may leave disfiguring scars that require plastic and reconstructive surgery.
Senior-aged victims experience similar issues; their aging skin is frail and more easily damaged than that of adults. Aging and age-related illnesses, such as diabetes, also compromise a senior’s immune system, which can pose serious risks if he or she contracts a bite-related infection.
What Damages Are Involved in a Dog Bite Claim?
At Sibley Dolman, when we negotiate our clients’ dog bite claims, we often recover economic and general damages. Florida law allows claims for punitive damages, although they are rare. To warrant punitive damages, an injured plaintiff must prove intentional misconduct or gross negligence with clear and convincing evidence.
We base economic damage figures on our clients’ medical bills, lost wages, and injury-related expenses. Economic damages include the following:
- Emergency room treatment and hospitalization
- Surgical costs
- Scar revision and other plastic surgery
- Current and future income losses
- Estimated future medical expenses
- Mobility devices and prosthetics
- Physical and psychological therapy
- Transportation expenses
- Replacement services
- Funeral expenses
General damages include psychological and emotional injuries. At Sibley Dolman, we work with our clients to evaluate any past, current, and future injury-related issues that they may face. General damages include the following:
- Pain and suffering
- Anxiety and distress
- Spousal and family relationship losses
- Lifestyle changes
- Diminished bodily functions
- Permanent limitations and disabilities
Who Is Responsible for Your Dog Bite Injury?
Some owners treat dogs like family members and forget that, despite their loving nature and cute personality traits, they’re domesticated wild animals. Like most wild animals, dogs respond instinctively, and they may react aggressively when they feel threatened by actions, some of which humans may not consider threatening. Dogs often cannot control their instinctive reactions, despite adequate training. Because dogs cannot accept legal responsibility for injuries that they cause, dog owners must assume that responsibility.
Florida and Broward County statutes acknowledge the complications often associated with dog-human relationships. State and local laws codify owner responsibilities, and statutorily-prescribed penalties motivate and punish dog owners who fail to comply.
Below we discuss some of the most important provisions from Broward County’s dog and cat ordinance, which outlines dog owners’ legal responsibilities.
- Section 4.2 – Defines dangerous dogs and excludes a dog from a dangerous classification if an injured person was on the owner’s property unlawfully, or if they provoked, abused, assaulted, or tormented the dog, its owner, family members, or guests while lawfully on the property.
- Section 4-3 – Allows citations and dog-seizures if a dog wanders at large or enters a property unlawfully.
- Section 4-4 – Designates impounding authority for nuisance animals.
- Section 4-8 – Discusses circumstances that define an animal as a nuisance.
- Section 4-11.5 – Describes the appeal process when a dog is classified as aggressive. It also lists locations that ban aggressive dogs, including at parks, restaurants, and other commercial sites. Aggressive dog owners must also register, insure, and secure an aggressive dog.
Florida Chapter 767 details dog-related civil and criminal responsibilities and penalties. The law includes provisions that mirror some Broward County laws. Below we discuss some of the most important provisions of this law.
- 767.11 – Changes the traditional dog owner meaning. The law defines an owner as any person, firm, corporation, or organization possessing, harboring, keeping, or having control or custody of an animal, which gives a non-owner legal responsibility for dog-related injuries in certain situations. If a person under 18 owns a dog, the parent or guardian assumes responsibility.
- 767.04 – Discusses an owner’s responsibility for dogs without a prior bite history. It also establishes permission exceptions for postal workers and children under the age of 6 when injured on a dog owner’s property.
What Defenses Does a Dog Owner Have Against a Valid Dog Bite Claim?
Except under very narrow circumstances, dog owners have few defenses against claims for their dogs’ bad actions. Still, some owners and insurance companies prefer to mount a defense rather than to offer a settlement. Insurance companies with a dog exclusion may accept the duty to defend while rejecting the duty to pay damages. These companies sometimes prefer to take a case to trial just to persuade defendants to accept lower settlement amounts. When defendants litigate a dog bite case, they rely on defenses aimed at reducing damages, shifting liability, or avoiding responsibility altogether. At Sibley Dolman, our experienced trial attorneys understand the tactics that insurance companies and liable parties are likely to employ, and we actively prepare our cases to deal with these strategies, which we discuss below:
- Provocation – If the defendant proves that the plaintiff provoked the dog, it can help establish a comparative negligence defense.
- Comparative negligence – Under Florida’s pure comparative fault statute, if a dog owner proves the injured victim was negligent, the court will reduce the damages award according to the plaintiff’s negligence percentage. For example, if the plaintiff is 99 percent negligent, he or she will still receive a 1 percent damage award.
- No negligence – If the dog owner proves that the injured individual is 100 percent responsible, the injured person recovers no damages.
- Trespasser – If the owner proves that the injured person was a trespasser when he or she sustained the injury, that individual’s status diminishes his or her chances of recovery.
- Warning sign – If the owner proves that a plaintiff ignored a posted warning sign, it strengthens the owner’s comparative fault defense.
Dog Bites and Insurance Coverage
In the recent past, a dog owner’s homeowners liability insurance provider usually settled dog bite victims’ claims and defended any lawsuits. Because dog bite claim payouts continue to rise, however, insurance companies have changed this dynamic and are now less likely to willingly participate. An Insurance Information Institute (III) report estimates that, nationally, insurance companies paid $686.3 million on 18,522 dog bite claims in 2017. Claims in Florida averaged $44,700 each, while the rest of the country averaged just $37,051.
As Florida families are unlikely to give up their furry family members any time soon, homeowners insurance companies have begun to reduce their dog bite risks with flexible underwriting strategies. They’ve modified policy language, reduced dog-related liability limits, and added new endorsements. For example, dog bite exclusion endorsements eliminate liability coverage for dog-related incidents, and vicious dogs and dogs with prior bite history liability exclusion policies prohibit liability coverage for a specific list of dangerous dogs or any dog with a bite history. Some insurance companies won’t write policies on any home with a canine pet.
This increasing rejection of dog bite coverage limits an injured person’s damage recovery options. Some homeowners fill the coverage void with specific dog liability policies. Dog owners can pay a separate premium and purchase a policy that covers their dog’s bad acts. When a responsible party has no liability coverage, dog bite victims retain their rights to compensation but must explore alternative recovery methods.
Contact our Ft. Lauderdale Dog Bite Attorneys
If you or your child sustained a dog bite injury, you may be eligible to seek compensation. At Sibley Dolman, our attorneys stand up for our clients. We make responsible parties pay for the damages that they cause, as indicated by our prior case results. We understand that a dog attack can completely change your personal and financial life. We also know that settlement don’t fix everything, but they can help prevent financial disaster and ensure a better life moving forward.
Call Sibley Dolman’s Ft. Lauderdale office at (754) 208-1130, or contact us online, to arrange a free consultation with one of our experienced dog bite lawyers. We’ve recovered millions in damages for our clients; let us determine if we can help you too.
Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP
100 SE 3rd Ave, 10th Floor
Ft. Lauderdale, FL, 33394
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