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Dog Bite Lawyers Analyze Florida Court of Appeals Decision Highlighting the Importance of Strict Liability in Dog Bite Lawsuits

Although dogs can constitute loving pets, canine attacks occur every day throughout Florida.  If you have never been bitten by a dog, you might be inclined to assume that most dog bites inflict only minor injuries.  However, approximately 4.5 million people experience dog bites annually in the U.S.  Almost one in five of these individuals suffer an infection.  In 2015, 28,000 people suffered dog bite injuries so severe that they needed reconstructive surgery.  While dog bite victims in Florida might have the right to assert strict liability claims against a dog owner or keeper, the actions of the victim often are asserted as a defense.  In this blog post, our Miami dog bite lawyers analyze an appellate court decision from last year that allowed a lawsuit to move forward to trial after the defendant attempted to shift financial responsibility to the dog bite victim.

The plaintiff was injured by guard dogs obtained by the defendant company K-9 to secure the premises of a business in the neighborhood.  When a K-9 worker returned the next morning to feed the dogs, the employee discovered the business had been burglarized, which allowed the dogs to escape the premises.  The plaintiff discovered the guard dogs in her backyard.  She mistakenly assumed the dogs for friendly pets of a nearby neighbor.  She kept the dogs secured in her yard where she fed and sheltered the animals.  Although she had two pet dogs of her own they were kept segregated in her home.  In attempting to return the dogs to the owner, she notified the neighborhood watch and contacted the local animal shelter.

When the plaintiff came home from work one evening, the dogs were gone.  She let her dogs in the backyard assuming that she would not see the other dogs again.  The guard dogs jumped the fence and returned to the yard, but she managed to coax them into the laundry room.  They escaped and attacked one of her dogs when making their way back into the yard.  The plaintiff suffered serious bite injuries to her toe when she intervened to stop the attack of her dog.

The dog bite statute in Florida provides that the owner of a dog who bites another person is strictly liable for damages even if the dog has no history of viciousness nor does the owner know of any vicious tendencies of the animal.  The liability of the owner can be reduced to the extent the negligence of the victim contributed to the biting incident that caused injury to the plaintiff.

The trial judge granted summary judgment to K-9, the owner of the dogs, based on the theory that the plaintiff was the proximate cause of her own injuries when she chose to intervene and break up the fight between the dogs.  Her attempt to protect her dog was an “intervening” and “superseding” force in causing her bite injuries.

The 3rd DCA reversed the trial judge finding that the lower court’s analysis was improper given the strict liability scheme of the dog bite statute.  The court observed the statute was “crystal clear” that dog owners are strictly liable for bites inflicted by their animals.  The amount of the recovery can be reduced or eliminated depending on the degree of fault based on the comparative negligence of the plaintiff.  However, the appellate court explained this is a determination for trial based on the evidence, not an issue to be decided as a matter of law by the judge prior to trial.

Greenberg, Stone, & Urbano:  Seeking Maximum Recovery for Damages Sustained Due to Negligence 

Our law firm lauds the result in this case because the ruling places the financial responsibility for bite injuries on dog owners who are in the best position to prevent dog attacks.  While the defendants will certainly argue for a reduction of damages at trial, the plaintiff now gets her day in court.  The Miami personal injury lawyers at Greenberg, Stone & Urbano will tenaciously pursue the fullest financial compensation.  For over 130 collective years, our firm has assisted accident victims in personal injury and wrongful death actions across South Florida.  We seek to obtain compensation for your tangible and intangible damages, including medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.  Our skill and dedication have earned us an AV rating from Martindale-Hubbell and recognition as one of South Florida’s top firms by the Miami Herald.   Call us at (888) 499-9700 or (305) 595-2400 or visit our website to schedule your initial consultation.

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/features/dog-bite-prevention/

http://www.dogsbite.org/pdf/2015-plastic-surgery-statistics-report.pdf

 

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