While for many of us, dogs are beloved family members who enrich our lives with their loyalty, love, and companionship, a dog that has not been properly trained, socialized, and restrained when appropriate can pose a danger to others. Man’s best friend unchained can become a snarling savage beast, intent on sinking its fangs into your flesh! Not a happy thought. If you’ve been attacked by a dog, you know just how frightening and traumatizing this can be.
When an attack occurs, however, the dog is not to be blamed. It is the owner who is responsible. A responsible pet owner trains, supervises, and restrains the pet when circumstances call for it. Restraint is needed, for example, when tradespeople are working in the home, when young children are visiting, or when the mail is being delivered.
Furthermore, the practice of “game breeding” pit bulls for dogfighting—a felony in Florida and all other states—has created aggressive animals that are even more dangerous to the public, and which require more supervision and restraint than the average house pet.
Under most circumstances, a dog owner who fails in the responsibility to restrain a dog may be held liable for any injuries the dog causes and made to pay for the victim’s damages.
While restraining a potentially dangerous dog is essential, this should never be done by tethering an unattended dog with a rope or chain to a fixed object, which can make the animal more aggressive and prone to biting humans. This practice is illegal in much of Florida, including both Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties.
These figures show just how prevalent the problem of biting dogs is in the United States:
Puncturing, crushing, and ripping of tissue by a dog can result in lacerations, infections, scarring, and damage nerves, muscles, tendons, or bones. These injuries often require sutures, and plastic surgery may be needed to minimize disfiguration. A dog attack can be extremely traumatic, resulting in phobias, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), calling for psychological counseling. In a few very rare cases, the dog’s victim is exposed to rabies.
As with other types of personal injury legal actions, you may claim both economic and non-economic damages, and in a few very limited cases, punitive damages. Economic damages are your medical expenses, lost earnings, and any other out-of-pocket expenses necessitated by the bite that can be documented by bills, receipts, and employment records. Non-economic damages are those that are more difficult to assign a dollar value, but which affect your quality of life: pain and suffering, psychological trauma, disability, loss of enjoyment of life, and so forth.
Very rarely, a jury may also assess punitive damages against the dog’s owner. These are occasionally used when the dog owner’s disregard for the well-being of others is so extreme that additional punishment is deemed appropriate as a deterrent to future transgressions. Punitive damages might be a possibility, for example, if you can prove the owner was breeding, harboring, or training the dog that bit you for the ring.
Florida is a “strict liability” state regarding dog attacks. That means that if an attack occurred resulting in damages to a victim, regardless of whether the animal had shown previous indications of vicious tendencies, the dog’s owner is liable for any damages proven to be caused by the bite. Proving negligence on the owner’s part is not necessary.
However, Florida is also a comparative negligence state. If you did something to provoke the attack or acted in a manner that contributed to causing the attack, the owner’s liability can be
And Florida law has an exception to the strict liability doctrine: if the victim is over age 6 and the attack occurred on the owner’s premises, and the owner has prominently posted a sign reading “Bad Dog” or “Beware of Dog,” the dog’s owner may escape liability for the victim’s damages.
If you’ve been bitten by a dog in Florida, you should follow a series of steps to protect your health as well as your legal right to compensation for your injuries:
Dog bites fall under the homeowner’s insurance policy of the property where the dog is kept and make up nearly a third of all homeowner’s insurance claims. The average settlement across the country for dog bite claims is between $26,000 and $30,000. (Every case is different, and your particular one could be worth much less or much more than the average, depending on its unique circumstances.)
But don’t expect to negotiate this type of settlement by yourself with the insurance adjuster. It takes a lawyer with skill, experience, and a good understanding of the monetary value of a case to achieve an adequate settlement for all of your economic and non-economic damages. The adjuster’s job is to avoid paying more than a token amount on each claim filed. Adjusters employ many tactics to keep payouts low. One tactic is advising victims that they don’t need a lawyer. If your injury is at all serious, don’t make this mistake. Don’t discuss your injuries with the adjuster, don’t give a recorded statement, and don’t sign anything, or you could compromise your case. Refer the adjuster to your attorney.
If a dog has bitten you or a member of your family and you live anywhere in or around Tampa Bay and West Central Florida, you can learn about your legal options by calling the law offices of attorney Stephen Maltezos to schedule a free consultation. Steve has offices in both Tampa and St. Pete for the convenience of clients in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties, or if you can’t get to his office, he can come to you. Steve is an aggressive and energetic advocate, committed to justice for the injured. He is an experienced and effective trial lawyer who will go as far as is needed to obtain a fair monetary settlement or verdict in every case he accepts.
Time to file your claim is limited by Florida law, so don’t wait; pick up the phone and call Maltezos Law now.