Don’t Get Bitten by Pet Liability
By: Clark, Campbell, Lancaster & Munson, P.A.
Q: What is my liability if my dog bites someone?
A: While each year only about one or two Floridians die from dog bites, some five hundred state residents could go to the hospital with injuries. In what is hopefully not a signal that the legislature thinks dogs are inherently dangerous nuisances, a whole chapter of Florida Statutes covers damage by dogs. Some of the provisions are more unusual than others, such as that it is lawful to kill a dog roaming over the country if that dog is known to have killed sheep. (Please think twice before assuming a loose dog in your neighborhood fits this definition.)
The most talked about provision is the “dog bite statute”, which generally pegs the pet owner with responsibility for his dog biting anyone who is not trespassing. One exception or reduction to the owner’s liability may exist if the bitten person negligently provoked the dog in a way that the person should have known would lead to a bite. Also, where the owner posts a conspicuous sign at his home reading “Bad Dog”, he may be able to limit or eliminate his liability for bites (except where those bites are of children under 6 or where the owner has acted negligently, which could include failure to supervise children). Of course, the owner should not expect to get such protection if he tells his party guests to ignore the yard sign’s warning.
Despite a common misconception otherwise, Florida does not have a “one free bite” rule allowing owners insulation from liability when their dogs have not shown prior dangerous tendencies. However, dogs deemed “dangerous” or under investigation by animal control authorities are subject to heightened standards (that may differ from county to county) and strict criminal penalties for owners of such dogs who do in fact bite.
One final point: reduce your worries by verifying that your homeowner’s insurance covers your dog’s bites.
The March 12th edition of “The Law” will cover crafting an effective power of attorney as part of your estate and long-term care plan to help you delegate authority and avoid fraud or misuse of your assets.
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