Recently, a 45-year-old man was found dead in a wooded area with more than 100 dog bites on his body. Authorities believed that he was attacked by a pack of stray dogs that were spotted in the area. Authorities captured six dogs whose bite sizes matched the man’s wounds, and there were plans to test the dogs’ DNA to see if it matched DNA found on the man’s body.
While they awaited the results of those tests, law enforcement warned people who lived in the neighborhood to remain wary of dogs running loose, as they weren’t sure if they’d captured all of the dogs that participated in the attack. The man, who was a father and a grandfather, often took the wooded path as a shortcut to his home.
About 4.7 million dog bites occur in the United States each year. About 800,000 of those bites result in the need for medical care. If a dog bit you or someone you love, our experienced Tampa Dog Bite Lawyers can help you understand Florida’s dog bite law and speak to you about whether you’re eligible to receive compensation for your injuries through a personal injury claim.
Why Do Dogs Bite?
According to Petfinder, dogs bite because:
- Dominance aggression: This trait is most commonly exhibited by male dogs that have not been neutered, and it simply means that the dog thinks he is in control. The behavior may be corrected through neutering as well as early obedience training. However, dogs who are known to exhibit dominant aggressive behaviors must be kept away from situations that can trigger this behavior.
- Protectiveness: The dog may bite to protect something it considers valuable, including its territory, its owners, its food, or its toys. While many dog owners choose their pet for the protective characteristics, feeling that having the dog makes their property safer, having an overprotective dog can cause the owner to face liability for any injuries it causes.
- Fear aggression: A dog’s aggression toward people may be a response to fear of strangers or unfamiliar situations. For example, a dog raised in a calm and quiet household may become fearful around children who are speaking in a loud voice or grabbing or chasing it.
- Maternal aggression: This is a mother dog’s protective instinct over her pups during the first weeks after birth. Many people only realize that their dog is aggressive after it has given birth. Experts suggest limiting visitors during the first few weeks after whelping so that the mother dog keeps a sense of calm and safety around her. There is plenty of time to visit, hold, and socialize the new puppies once their eyes are open and they are moving around on their own.
- Redirected aggression: This form of dog aggression is most often seen when two dogs are fighting and a person tries to break up the fight. In fact, this is one of the most common ways for an adult human to suffer a dog bite.
- Pain-induced aggression: A dog that is in pain will often bite as a way to let the human know that it has been hurt. This is a common reason for bites from chihuahuas and other small dogs. Chihuahuas are a pain-sensitive breed and are also the perpetrators of more bites than any other breed.
- The dog wants to be left alone: Many times a dog will bite simply because a child or adult won’t stop bothering it. Parents must supervise their children around dogs and also pay attention to the warnings that a dog might give before biting. If a dog is growling, baring its teeth, or has moved away from the person who is paying attention to it, then it probably wants to be left alone.
- Rough play: A dog will often nip playfully when a human roughhouses with it. However, experts warn that rough play with a dog can make it aggressive and more prone to biting others.
So much of the above comes down to one thing, however: Owner negligence. Dog owners frequently fail to properly train, supervise, exercise, socialize, or restrain their animals—and when they do, they are liable for the consequences.
Who Is a Dog Most Likely to Bite?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children are more likely to be bitten by a dog than adults, and the bites are often more severe. Among adults, men are more likely to be bitten by a dog than women are, and those who have dogs in the household are more likely to suffer a dog bite than those who do not. More than half of dog bites occur within the home to a person that the dog is familiar with. People who own several dogs are five times more likely to be bitten than those who don’t own any dogs.
The Dangers of Dog Bites
More than 80 percent of dog bites don’t require medical attention. However, those who do can suffer serious injuries including:
- Severe lacerations and deep puncture wounds
- Uncontrolled bleeding
- Broken bones or exposure of bones and muscle
- Loss of eyesight and facial trauma
Additionally, the mouths of dogs contain many bacteria. Up to 18 percent of dog bites become infected due to this bacteria. Dog bites can transmit several different illnesses, including:
- Rabies. Although rare in the United States, rabies is still a risk and a consideration after a dog bite has occurred. Be sure to speak to a healthcare provider if you’ve been bitten by a dog that has not been vaccinated against rabies or whose vaccination record is unclear.
- Capnocytophaga bacteria. This bacteria is present in dogs, cats, and humans. Though it generally doesn’t make people sick, those with weakened immune systems are at greater risk from this bacteria as their bodies are unable to fight off infection.
- Pasteurella. Over half of all infected dog bite wounds contain this bacteria, which causes redness and pain at the infection site, and may also result in swollen glands, swelling of the joints, and difficulty moving.
- MRSA. This is a type of antibiotic-resistant staph infection that—while generally not impacting the dog’s health—may cause skin, lung, and urinary tract infections in humans.
- Tetanus. This is a toxin that can cause rigid paralysis in people and is of particular concern for those with deep puncture wounds.
How to Avoid a Dog Bite (or Having Your Dog Bite Someone Else)
A person can avoid dog bites, and owners can keep their dogs from biting someone else in the following ways.
For Dog Owners
- Consider purchasing dog liability insurance, particularly if you have a breed of dog that people are wary of. While this won’t prevent a bite, it could protect you from paying for someone’s medical expenses out-of-pocket.
- If you get a puppy, regardless of which breed, enroll it in obedience classes. These classes will not only teach your dog to obey your commands, but will offer you valuable pointers on how to keep your dog under your control.
- Socialization of puppies in a number of situations and around many people will often produce a dog that is less fearful, territorial, or aggressive.
- Carefully research different breeds before choosing your dog. Any breed of dog can bite if the circumstances are right for him or her to do so. However, some dogs handle certain situations better than others. Some dogs are more properly suited for older people or families with children, those that do well primarily in the house, and those that need space to run. Selecting the proper dog for your life situation goes a long way in ensuring a happy, rewarding experience for all.
- Be sure that your pet is supervised at all times when it is around others. This is particularly true if you have children visiting your home.
- Do not leave your dog chained in one area, particularly if this area is easily accessible by others. This causes dogs to become territorial and can result in the dog biting a passerby.
- Don’t play aggressively with your dog. Dogs should be trained that aggressive play is not acceptable.
- If you adopt a dog from a shelter, get as much information as possible as to the dog’s previous ownership. Dogs who have a history of aggression should not be adopted into homes with children, regardless of what the circumstances behind that aggression were. You should also avoid having too many visitors around for the first few weeks after adopting, to give the dog time to get used to you and your home without confronting more new people that he or she may perceive as a threat.
- Spay or neuter your dog. Not only does this reduce the number of stray animals, it will also reduce aggressive tendencies.
For Others Encountering Dogs
- Never approach a dog you don’t know. If an unfamiliar dog approaches you, don’t make any loud noises or run away. Instead, remain motionless, facing the dog, and avoid direct eye contact.
- Don’t disturb a dog if it is eating, sleeping, or taking care of puppies. Teach your children that these are times when it is absolutely not all right to pet or play with the dog.
- If you want to pet a dog that is not known to you, extend your non-dominant hand and allow the dog to sniff it first. If the dog appears receptive to being petted, pet it under the chin rather than on the top of its head.
- Strays tend to run in packs and can exhibit dominance aggression toward people. Avoid dogs running in packs or any dog in your neighborhood that is exhibiting strange behavior. Report these situations to your local animal control office.
- If you’re knocked to the ground by a dog, curl into a ball with your ears, neck, and face covered by your arms and remain motionless. Avoid eye contact and do not scream or panic.
Florida’s Dog Bite Law
Florida is a strict liability state when it comes to dog bites. This means that, if your dog bites someone who is in a public place or lawfully in a private place—including your home—you can be held liable for the resultant injuries, regardless of whether you knew the dog was potentially vicious or not. The only time this rule doesn’t apply is if your dog bit someone over the age of 6 while enclosed in an area with a sign prominently displaying the words “bad dog” or “beware of dog.”
Dogs who have caused a serious injury to a human may be classified by state law as dangerous dogs. During a dangerous dog investigation, the animal may be confiscated and quarantined until it is determined to either be safe to be released back to the owner or destroyed. The dog owner will pay the expense of boarding the animal during this investigation.
Dogs who are deemed dangerous but released to the owner must be registered with local authorities. Proof of rabies vaccination will be kept on file. The dog must also be contained in an enclosed area that is not accessible to others and a warning sign must be displayed in a prominent area on the enclosure. If the dog is let out of the enclosure, it must be muzzled, leashed, and under the control of a competent person.
The dog must also have permanent identification such as a tattoo or electronic implantation to ensure that it is easily identified if there should be problems with it in the future. If the animal is sold to someone else or given away, local law enforcement must have the name, address, and contact information of the new owner. An animal control officer in the jurisdiction where the dog has moved must be notified of its status as a dangerous dog.
Tampa Dog Bite FAQ
When a dog bites you or a family member, it can change your perspective about man’s best friend. Even if you consider yourself a dog lover, you realize that even the most docile family pet can cause serious harm. Despite an owner’s declaration that their dog would never cause an injury, that’s rarely true. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) acknowledges this as they describe American dogs: “Nearly 77 million nice dogs… but any dog can bite.”
A dog’s teeth are sharp enough to tear through human flesh, but only 1 in 5 bites cause serious injuries. When a dog enters full-on attack mode, they often cause serious and sometimes fatal injuries. It doesn’t matter who owns them or if they’ve never bitten someone before, dogs pose a constant danger. That’s why we’ve created a Tampa Dog Bite FAQ. We believe that it’s important for you to know the facts.
Why do dogs bite?
As the AVMA Dog Bite Prevention Page explains, dogs bite for many reasons. It’s usually an instinctive reaction to something or someone, including:
- A situation makes them feel stressed.
- They feel scared.
- They’re defending their territory.
- They feel threatened or excited.
- They are trying to protect their puppies, food, toys, or other objects.
- They sometimes bite while playing roughly with humans.
Dog attacks also occur when owners fail to keep their dogs fenced-in, on a leash, or otherwise under control. The Florida Department of Health lists “inappropriate behavior management” as the cause of 26 percent of dog bites in the state. This often involves interacting with a dog while they’re eating or playing or touching a dog against their will. Sometimes pet owners encourage the human behaviors that intimidate dogs and motivate them to attack. They invite young children to touch or play with a dog even when the dog doesn’t want them to.
How frequently do dog bites occur?
The Florida Health Department documents statewide dog bite cases on their Dog Bite Prevention page. The AVMA tracks the numbers across the country.
You’ll find these and other statistics on their websites:
- Dog bite incidents in Florida fatally injure two people each year.
- Each year an average of 600 Florida dog bite victims are hospitalized.
- When an unrestrained dog attacked, 89 percent of the victims did not know the dog.
- In the U.S., dogs bite 4.5 million people each year.
- In just one year, insurers paid $797 million in liability claims for dog attacks.
What injuries do Tampa dog bites cause?
When a dog bites, it’s an attack on the victim, often in response to a perceived danger. A dog defends itself with whatever weapons they have available, and they assault any accessible body part. Dogs can scratch you with their claws. They use their canine teeth to bite you, tear your skin, and rip into your muscles. They sometimes latch on to you, causing injuries down to the bone.
An attacking dog’s actions can cause a wide range of serious injuries, including:
- Puncture wounds;
- Skin, muscle, and tissue damage;
- Nerve damage;
- Permanent scars; and
In addition to bites, puncture wounds, scratches, and tissue lacerations, dogs sometimes pass along harmful bacteria, parasites, and other diseases to their victims. These can include rabies, MRSA, Brucellosis, tetanus, and other transmissible diseases. Children and adults with immune system issues are particularly vulnerable to these medical conditions.
Dog bites also leave some victims with disfiguring scars. An American Society of Plastic Surgeons report documented 26,906 reconstructive plastic surgeries due to dog bite injuries.
Is an owner legally responsible for their dog’s actions?
Florida Statutes, Title XLV, Torts §767 “Damage by Dogs” explains a dog owner’s liability for their dog’s actions. An owner is legally responsible when the attack occurs in any public place or when the victim is lawfully on the owner’s property. A person is deemed lawfully on the premises while they are performing duties imposed by state or local laws or United States postal regulations. A person is also a lawful visitor if they are on a property by the owner’s expressed or implied invitation.
An owner is responsible for damages “regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners’ knowledge of such viciousness.”
But certain circumstances reduce or diminish the owner’s liability when a bite occurs on their property, including:
- The injured person’s negligence is the proximate cause of the attack.
- The owner displays a bad dog sign. This doesn’t apply if the victim is under age 6 or the owner is liable due to a negligent act or omission.
- When the bitten person contributes to the incident, a settlement or jury award reduces damages by the injured person’s percentage of negligence.
The statute’s “Damage by Dogs” definitions, §767.11, further define and broaden the meaning of “Owner.” When used in the statute, it includes, “a person, firm, corporation, or organization possessing, harboring, keeping, or having control or custody of an animal or, if the animal is owned by a person under the age of 18, that person’s parent or guardian.”
Who is the most vulnerable to Tampa dog bite attacks and serious injuries?
Children are the most vulnerable dog victims. A child’s height and size give dogs easy access to their face, neck, and other critical body parts. Larger dogs outweigh infants and young children. When a dog sees a child as a threat, they are easier to attack and subdue. When attacked, children sustain far more serious injuries. A simple bite easily slashes a child’s more delicate skin, muscle, and bone.
The Florida Health Department provides these facts about children and dog bites:
- Children ages one to nine are most at risk for dog bites.
- Boys are at higher risk than girls.
- 86 percent of dog bite cases in children under age six involved dogs the victim’s family knows.
- In children 15 and under, 50 percent sustained dog bites injuries while trying to stop a dog fight.
The CDC explains that a young immune system restricts a child’s ability to fight dog-bite transmitted bacterial diseases. Immune system issues are also a problem for people over age 65, people without spleens, and other adults with weakened immune systems.
Are Tampa dog bite injuries still a problem for postal workers?
Dog attacks remain a consistent problem for United States mail carriers. They occur so frequently, the United States Postal Service publishes an annual list of dog attack rankings by city and state. With 211 mail carrier dog attacks across the state, Florida is number nine on the list. The most recent dog bite rankings list includes mail carrier attacks that occurred during one recent year. The USPS documented 5,714 attacks, 500 fewer than the previous year.
Mail carriers now rely on digital technology to help them avoid dog attacks. The mobile scanning devices carriers use to confirm package delivery also issue dog bite alerts when there is a dog in the area. Customers assist by including data about any dogs on their property when they schedule a package pickup.
The USPS also asks that mail customers comply with the following guidelines:
- When a mail carrier comes to a door, recipients should place dogs in another room and close the door. This helps avoid instances where dogs burst through screens or glass to attack.
- Children should not attempt to take mail directly from a carrier if their dog is nearby. Dogs sometimes see the act as a threat and it may trigger an attack.
- If mail carriers feel threatened by a dog, they may request that the owner pick up their mail at the post office. If dogs are roaming a neighborhood, they may ask all the residents to pick up their mail.
What can you do to avoid Tampa dog bite injuries?
Dog owners often understand their pet’s temperament and can usually pick up on their body language. With a strange or stray dog, even dog-lovers can’t always anticipate their actions or reactions. It’s even more difficult for a child or a non-owner to understand when a dog is preparing to attack. That’s why organizations such as the Florida Department of Health, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the AVMA provide dog bite prevention tactics.
Although these strategies shift the focus and responsibility away from dog owners and onto dog bite victims, they’re still important. They help reduce your potential for serious dog bite injuries.
- Never leave an infant alone with a dog.
- Never approach a dog when the owner isn’t around.
- Stay away from any strange or stray dogs.
- Never look a dog in the eye. A dog sees that as a challenge.
- Never startle a dog by running or screaming.
- If a dog knocks you down, roll into a ball, tuck in your head, and cover your ears and neck.
- Avoid a dog while it’s eating, playing, or with its puppies.
- Avoid barking or growling dogs.
The CDC also provides a link to “Don’t Let the Dogs Bite,” a child’s safety activity book provided by the California Department of Public Health.
Do Florida statutes include punishment for owners whose dogs cause damage or injury?
Florida Statute §767 “Attack or bite by dangerous dog” outlines criminal penalties for owners whose dogs were previously declared “dangerous.”
- First-degree misdemeanor: When a previously “declared dangerous” dog commits a second unprovoked attack on another dog, the owner is guilty of a first-degree misdemeanor. Punishment may include fines and dog confiscation.
- Third-degree felony: When a dangerous dog causes severe injury or death to a human, the owner is guilty of a third-degree felony. Punishments may include fines, imprisonment, and probation.
How do I file a claim against a Tampa dog owner?
If someone’s dog bites you or a family member, you should ask the owner to turn in a liability claim to their insurance company. They might not turn in a claim unless you insist. Many homeowners purchase package policies that include liability coverage. The insurance company should investigate to determine the facts of the case. They will ask for your version, talk to witnesses, discuss the incident with their insured, and decide whether to pay or deny your claim.
The dog owner’s insurer may provide a process for you to recover money for your medical bills and any lost wages. You may also negotiate a settlement for pain, suffering, scarring, and other costs. Unfortunately, recovering dog bite damages isn’t as simple as it once was. Due to increasing dog bite claim costs, homeowner’s insurance companies often refuse to cover homes for families that have pet dogs. Some policies exclude liability coverage for specific dog breeds. Others allow their insureds to purchase dog liability coverage endorsements or separate dog liability policies.
Do I have to file a lawsuit to recover damages?
Regardless of the responsible dog owner’s insurance issues, you still have a right to recover damages for your injuries. If you can’t accomplish this through informal means, you have the right to file a lawsuit. A dog bite claim is just like any other liability case. You must present evidence that proves the other person is legally responsible for your injuries.
If the responsible party doesn’t have a valid liability insurance policy, you may have to file a lawsuit and seek a judgment in court. If you are successful, you must collect your judgment directly from the responsible party.
Do I need an attorney to file a Tampa dog bite claim?
As with any injury, dog bite claims often become complicated. When you consult our Tampa dog bite attorneys, you learn about your legal rights and how best to protect them. Attorneys review the evidence and determine who is responsible for their clients’ dog bite injuries. They deal with liability insurance carriers and attempt to resolve claims through negotiation or mediation. If an insurance company negotiates but won’t budge on the damages or liability issues, attorneys can advise their clients about filing a lawsuit.
When you consult our Tampa dog bite lawyers, your initial meeting is free. We simply talk to you about your dog bite incident and explain your legal options. Ultimately, the decision to file a claim or file a lawsuit is up to you.
Call Our Tampa Dog Bite Attorneys Today
If you’ve suffered a dog bite and are interested in learning about your legal options, you can call our Tampa personal injury lawyers at any time. We’re happy to provide a free case evaluation and see what we can do to help you recover as much compensation as possible.
With offices across both Florida coasts, you can easily reach Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, and Sibley Dolman Gipe Accident Injury Lawyers, PA, at 833-552-7274 (833-55-CRASH), or you can write to us using our online contact page.