When a dog bites you or your child, it challenges your idea of dogs as man’s best friend. Make no mistake, a dog bite is an aggressive attack. It’s in stark contrast to the general vision of dogs playing on the beach or faithfully guarding their masters’ homes. Regardless of whether you and/or the dog owner believe you provoked a bite incident, you still suffered a serious injury. Dogs’ teeth can tear through your skin. Dog bites often injure your flesh and muscles and can cause severe pain and nerve damage. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dogs can also transfer rabies and other infectious diseases, such as MRSA and tetanus.
The Florida Department of Health provides the general public with tips for preventing dog bites and also calculated the following statistics:
- Children ages one to nine are most at risk.
- Dog bite injuries kill two Florida residents each year.
- Annually, 600 Florida residents undergo hospitalization and in-patient care due to dog bites.
- 86 percent of dog bite cases in children under six involve dogs that the victim knows.
Dog Bites and Children
North Miami Beach’s youngest citizens are most vulnerable to dog attacks. Simple puncture wounds can easily penetrate children’s skin and harm their delicate bones and muscles. Furthermore, a child’s immature immune system may struggle to fight off dog bite-related infections. When a child’s injuries do heal, they can leave disfiguring scars.
Children’s short stature puts them on a dog’s level. Unfortunately, this makes them a prime target for facial and neck injuries. Young children usually see dogs as pets and playmates and may not fully understand their inherent animal nature. Children often sustain injuries when they touch a dog while the dog is eating or playing, and 50 percent of dog bite victims age 15 or older sustain injuries while attempting to break up dog fights.
Dog Owners Should Pay for the Injuries Caused by Their Pets
At Sibley Dolman, our experienced legal team provides dog bite victims with the personal attention that they deserve. Our North Miami Beach attorneys have represented many injured clients in past cases. We understand complex dog bite liability, criminal, and injury issues. We dedicate our efforts toward gathering and presenting evidence that overcomes legal defenses and proves our clients’ cases. When our personal injury lawyers represent dog bite victims, we work hard to ensure that they secure compensation for the full cost of their injuries.
Our Personal Injury Practice Results
In resolving our clients’ cases, we’ve gained significant experience negotiating with dog owners and their insurance companies. In the past, when all of the involved parties have cooperated, we’ve settled claims through informal negotiation and mediation. However, when necessary we’ve also pursued our clients’ cases in the courtroom. As each case has unique circumstances and injuries, we cannot guarantee a specific outcome; however, we are proud to share our personal injury case results as evidence of our success. Below we discuss some of our recent results.
- Rideshare Wrongful Death, $1 Million Settlement. In this complex Georgia rideshare case, a passenger sustained fatal injuries when the driver crashed while racing another vehicle to an intersection. The decedent’s wife contacted our law firm, and we worked with a Georgia attorney to file a lawsuit. We settled with one defendant, but the lawsuit remains pending while we explore settlement options with other responsible parties.
- Semi-Truck Brain Injury Accident, $3.2 Million Settlement. Our client sustained brain injuries when a semi-truck struck his vehicle. Our legal team executed a confidential settlement during a pre-trial mediation.
- Premises Liability Slip-and-Fall, $300,000 Settlement. The defendant denied liability after our client fell in their restaurant parking lot. Our legal team eventually negotiated a settlement with the responsible parties.
- Motorcycle Accident, $750,000 Settlement. Our client sustained serious brain trauma and a shoulder injury when a driver struck his motorcycle. The defendants’ insurance companies paid their $250,000 policy limits, and our client’s insurance carrier paid $500,000, his maximum underinsured motorist benefit.
What Injuries Do Dog Bites Cause?
According to the CDC, only one out of every five dog bites requires medical treatment. Unfortunately, the most severely injured victims face a more difficult recovery process. Their path to healing often includes costly emergency and follow-up treatment, surgical repairs, antibiotic regimens, and scar revisions. Adult dog-bite victims may endure lost wages from ongoing disabilities and long-term medical complications. In rare circumstances, dog attacks inflict fatal injuries.
As children are smaller and frailer than adults, dog bites generally cause children more damage. Elderly individuals can also sustain serious injuries, as they may suffer from frailty issues similar to young children. Both children and elderly individuals suffer from weak immature immune systems, which puts them at risk for serious dog bite-related infections. Adults with immune system issues have infection concerns as well. Scars pose a major problem for both old and young dog bite victims. The most recent American Society of Plastic Surgeons’ statistics documented 28,991 dog-bite related procedures nationally during a single year.
Dog bites injuries vary from minor to severe, including:
Severe Lacerations: Dog bites can cause deep and long cuts or lacerations at the site of the bite injury. When a dog tears into a person’s flesh they not only puncture but tear and lacerate to cause damage that is spread out. Lacerations run a risk of causing blood vessels to be opened and severe bleeding to occur. Lacerations also cause immense damage to muscle, skin, and tissue in general.
Puncture Wounds: A dog’s teeth are adapted to sink deep into prey to prevent them from fleeing and to inflict damage deep into the tissue. Dog bite injuries can puncture the skin and tissue to the point that organs are put in danger of also being damaged. Deep puncture wounds can go so far as to cause internal bleeding when they rupture certain organs or blood vessels. This is typically only possible among the larger dog breeds that have significantly stronger bites and longer teeth.
Dog Bite Infections: One of the biggest risks that come with dog bite injuries is the chance that the wound may become infected. Dogs are not exactly known for maintaining stellar oral hygiene and we have all seen them eat or lick things that would hardly help this. As a result, a dog’s mouth is typically filled with all kinds of bacteria that can cause a wound to become infected rapidly if not seen by a physician as soon as possible. Infections can interfere with the healing of a wound, destroy tissue, and if severe enough can lead to the need to amputate. Common dangerous bacteria that cause dog bite infections include Pasteurella, MRSA, and Capnocytophaga bacteria.
Bite Transferred Diseases: There are a number of diseases that can be transferred via a dog bite. The most infamous of these dog bite transferred diseases is rabies which afflicts many animals that can potentially bite people. Rabies is a virus that can occur in unvaccinated dogs and attacks the brain. Rabies is often fatal as soon as symptoms begin to appear. Dog bites can also cause tetanus which is a toxin produced by a type of bacteria called Clostridium tetani. This toxin causes paralysis in those affected.
What Damages Can I Recover?
When our attorneys settle our clients’ dog bite claims, we generally seek two different types of damages: economic and general damages. Florida law allows plaintiffs to seek punitive damages as well, but they must show clear and convincing evidence that a dog owner acted with gross negligence or intentional misconduct.
We calculate our clients’ economic damage claims based on incurred and estimated future out of pocket expenses. Economic damages include these and other expenses:
- Emergency room treatment and hospitalization
- Surgical costs
- Scar revision and other plastic surgery expenses
- Current and future income losses
- Estimated future medical expenses
- Mobility devices and prosthesis
- Therapy costs
- Transportation expenses
- Replacement services
- Funeral expenses
When we negotiate our clients’ dog bite claims, we also seek general damages. These losses include emotional issues, physical complications, lifestyle changes, and other considerations, including:
- Pain and suffering
- Anxiety and distress
- Spousal and family relationship losses
- Loss of bodily functions
- Scars and disfigurement
- Permanent limitations and disabilities
- Loss of bodily functions
Who Pays for My Dog Bite Injuries?
The same dog that bites you or your loved one is usually someone else’s beloved family pet. As with most animals, dogs act on instinct. Dogs obviously don’t understand the concepts of reasonable behavior and legal responsibility, so the blame shifts to their owners and/or caretakers. That’s often where a responsibility breakdown occurs; dog owners don’t want to think of their dogs as vicious animals and thus may refuse to accept responsibility for a bite. Fortunately, Florida statutes make it difficult for a dog owner to ignore or deflect liability.
Florida statutes recognize dogs as potentially harmful animals. In North Miami Beach and throughout Florida, owners are legally responsible for their dog’s actions. Florida law carefully details dog owners’ civil and criminal liabilities in the event that their dog bites someone.
Florida law also lays out the level of owners’ responsibility for their dogs’ actions in the absence of a prior bite history. Owners are responsible for injuries that their dog causes in a public place or to a person on private property with permission. Postal service workers and people that a property owner invites onto his or her land are deemed to be on the property with permission. Permission issues don’t apply to children under the age of six. Otherwise, several factors modify owners’ duties for dog bites involving people on their property,
- The bitten person was aware of the dog’s viciousness
- The owner posted a “bad dog” or other similar sign
- The bitten person acted negligently or contributed to the incident in some way
Florida law also discusses legal penalties for owners when a dog that has previously been declared dangerous commits a second unprovoked attack. Under such circumstances, the second act warrants a misdemeanor criminal charge against the owner, and authorities often confiscate the dog. Dog owners can be charged with a third-degree felony if their dangerous dog causes serious injury or death.
Florida law defines a dog owner to include a person, firm, or corporation that possesses, harbors, keeps, or has control or custody of an animal. This broad definition provides non-owners legal responsibility for dog bites in certain situations.
Dog Bites and Insurance Coverage
In the past, liability insurance companies investigated dog bite claims, paid the damages, and defended any lawsuits against their policyholders. However, that standard has recently begun to shift. Dog bite claims cost homeowners insurance companies millions of dollars and the payout rates continue to increase each year. A study published by the Insurance Information Institute (III) estimated that in 2017, insurance companies handled 18,522 dog bite claims nationally and paid out 686.3 million dollars in damages, averaging 37,051 per claim. Florida’s average paid dog bite claim is higher than the national average. With an average payment of $44,700, Florida has the second highest average paid dog bite claim rate in the country.
Homeowners insurance companies fight dog bite claims with an arsenal of underwriting weapons. They often issue policies with low dog bite liability limits and add exclusionary policy language and endorsements. Some policies include dog bite exclusion endorsements, which eliminate liability coverage for any dog-related liability event. Other homeowners policies incorporate vicious dogs and dogs with prior bite history liability exclusions, which eliminate liability coverage for a specific list of dogs that are generally considered to be dangerous and dogs with a bite history. Some insurance companies refuse to write policies on any home with a canine pet.
These exclusionary endorsements have not reduced dog bite claims. In fact, III’s study shows that dog bite claim payments nearly doubled over the past ten years. Despite dangerous dog coverage exclusions, insurance companies are often cautious when enforcing new and restrictive policy language. Some companies accept dog bite claims, considering their duty to defend as a separate obligation from their duty to indemnify their insured or pay damages to an injured person.
When an insurance policy excludes dog bite incidents, dog liability policies fill the void. Owners can pay a separate premium and purchase a policy that covers their dog’s bad acts.
You Have a Right to Recover Damages When the Dog Owner Doesn’t Have Liability Insurance
When a dog owner’s policy excludes dog liability events, you still have the right to compensation. You can pursue your claim either informally or through the courts. When you obtain a judgment, the dog owner must pay or risk a judgment enforcement action against him or her. As with any unpaid or unsatisfied judgment, you have several collection payment options, including:
- The dog owner may pay you using private funds.
- With a successful judgment, you may place a lien on the dog owner’s home.
- If the dog owner is a tenant, you may file a lawsuit against the property owner.
- You can establish a payment agreement.
Does a Dog Owner Have Valid Defenses Against a Dog Bite Claim?
When a dog attacks, the owner has few viable defenses, but that doesn’t prevent liability many owners from attempting to avoid liability. Even if settlement is the right solution, some dog owners and their insurance companies prefer defending their cases in court. They often employ strategies that work to diminish liability, reduce the damages, or avoid responsibility altogether. Below we discuss some of the most common strategies:
- Provocation. This defense involves blaming the bite victim for provoking a dog. While provocation is no longer a sound defense, it’s often incorporated into a comparative negligence defense.
- Comparative negligence. Florida law incorporates the legal idea of comparative fault, which takes into account an injured party’s level of negligence. If a dog owner proves that the injured victim contributed to his or her own injuries by provocation or other means, the court will reduce the damages award according to the victim’s level of negligence. For example, if the court finds the injured person 25 percent negligent, the victim will only be able to recover 75 percent of the original damages amount.
- No negligence. If the dog owner proves that the injured person is 100 percent responsible for the attack, then the injured person cannot recover any damages.
- Trespasser. If the dog owner proves that an injured person had no right to enter the owner’s private property, the victim’s status as a trespasser diminishes his or her ability to recover damages. This defense does not include postal employees who have a legal right to enter a property, nor does it include children under the age of six.
- Warning sign. The injured victim ignored a Bad Dog warning, or other similar sign.
Contact Our North Miami Beach Dog Bite Attorneys
If a dog injured you or your loved one, we want to hear your story. At Sibley Dolman, our attorneys give our clients the personal attention that they deserve. We stand up to dog owners who are responsible for their dog’s bad actions, and we make them pay. Dog bites are painful, the medical care is costly, and when you sustain disabling injuries, a single attack can completely alter your life. We understand that a financial settlement won’t fix everything in your life, but it can help reduce your financial stress in the future.
Our attorneys have recovered millions of dollars for our injured clients in the past. Let us determine if we can do the same for you. Call Sibley Dolman’s North Miami Beach office at (305) 676-8154, or contact us online, to schedule your free consultation today.
Sibley Dolman Accident Injury Lawyers, LLP
1820 NE 163rd St #306,
North Miami Beach, FL 33162