Whether you're a Florida dog owner, or you've been bitten or otherwise harmed by someone else's dog, laws related to dog bite liability and lawsuits may be of interest to you. In this article, we'll discuss:
A statute of limitations is a law that places a strict deadline on your right to file a lawsuit in your state's civil court system. Different kinds of cases are subject to different deadlines.
A claim for dog bite injuries would be considered a personal injury lawsuit, and Florida's statute of limitations on personal injury cases (Florida Statutes section 95.11) gives you four years to get this kind of case started (that means filing a personal injury complaint in court). The "clock" starts running on the day of the injury.
If you try to file your lawsuit after the four-year deadline has passed, the court will almost certainly dismiss it, unless the circumstances call for a rare extension of the filing deadline.
Florida's dog bite statute, which can be found at Florida Statutes section 767.04, says that a dog owner is liable for injuries if:
This statute only covers injuries caused by dog bites. However, a person who is injured by a dog in another way may be able to prove the owner is liable if the injured person can show the owner's negligence (or failure to use reasonable care) resulted in the injury. For instance, a person who is knocked down and injured by a dog may be able to hold the owner liable for failing to properly restrain the dog.
Florida is a "strict liability" state when it comes to dog bites. In other words, a Florida dog owner may be held liable if his or her dog bites someone, even if the owner had no prior knowledge or warning that the dog might bite. Section 767.04 specifically states that the dog owner is "liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners' knowledge of such viciousness."
Learn more about strict liability dog bite laws.
A Florida dog owner has at least three potential defenses to a dog bite claim:
Florida's dog bite law requires an injured person to be "lawfully" in the place where the bite occurred in order to recover damages. A person who is trespassing on private property without permission is not "lawfully" on the private property. So a dog owner could argue that the injured person was trespassing and therefore not entitled to collect damages.
Under Florida's dog bite law, if a dog bite injury victim's own negligence is partly the cause of the dog bite, the amount of damages a liable owner must pay will be reduced by a percentage equal to the percentage of blame assigned to the injured person.
Finally, under section 767.04, a dog owner is not liable for bite injuries if he or she had displayed—in a prominent place on the property—an easily readable sign that includes the words "Bad Dog." Note that such a sign won't protect an owner if the dog bite victim is under six years of age, or if the owner was negligent in connection with the incident.
If you find yourself on either side of a dog bite claim as the animal's owner or as someone who suffered a bite injury it may be time to discuss your situation with a personal injury lawyer.