NO FREE BITE
By: Scott Richard, Esq.
“His bark is worse then his bite”. We have all heard this old saying. But as dog owners, we have to worry about our pets bite. If we fail to take steps to protect others from our pets bite we may get a loud bark from a lawyer, or even the police.
Florida, like all states, has specific laws regarding liability for failure to control our dogs and protect others. It is not always the common mis-belief of “one free bite”.
Most laws regarding liability for dog attacks can be found in Chapter 767 of the Florida Statutes. That chapter should be reviewed for a more complete discussion on this subject. The statutes starts with this broad statement: “-Owners of dogs shall be liable for any damage done by their dogs to a person or to any animal included in the definitions of “domestic animal” and “livestock”. So as you can see, this includes attacks to other animals as well as people. Liability will also be held against persons “in custody” of your pet or if you are in custody of a friends pet.
The owner of any dog that bites any person while that person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the dog owner’s property, is liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners’ knowledge of such viciousness. However, the owner is not liable, except as to a person under the age of 6, or unless the damages are proximately caused by a negligent act or omission of the owner, if at the time of any such injury the owner had displayed in a prominent place on his or her premises a sign easily readable including the words “Bad Dog.”
If your dog is determined to be “dangerous” then you may be open to criminal penalties and animal control may take your dog for a period of time or worse. A dog may be declared “dangerous ” by the animal control authorities. A dog does not have to have bitten someone before being declared dangerous. The definition includes: Has aggressively bitten, attacked, or endangered or has inflicted severe injury on a human being on public or private property; Has more than once severely injured or killed a domestic animal while off the owner’s property; Has been used primarily or in part for the purpose of dog fighting or is a dog trained for dog fighting; or has, when unprovoked, chased or approached a person upon the streets, sidewalks, or any public grounds in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack, provided that such actions are attested to in a sworn statement by one or more persons and dutifully investigated by the appropriate authority. It is important to note the terms in bold. Dangerous does not just apply to bites.
In addition to the civil liability, the owner can be charged with a crime for a violation of the above statutes.
If a dog that has previously been declared dangerous attacks or bites a person or a domestic animal without provocation, the owner is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.
If a dog that has previously been declared dangerous attacks and causes severe injury to or death of any human, the owner is guilty of a felony of the third degree.
The rules do not apply in the same way if the attack is made upon a trespasser.
Most of our pets will never attack a person, but for the sake of others and our pets, it is important to make sure we provide a safe environment in which to keep our pets and children.