Dog bite responsibility. As an animal law attorney, one of the most common phone calls received is that of a dog owner, in sheer panic, because they have received a demand letter from a personal injury attorney after their dog has bitten someone.
Many dog owners encounter this unfortunate situation and the immediate concerns of “will they kill my dog?” or “can they sue me for millions?” are always the first questions. These questions can cloud judgment and evoke panic, so we are here to explain the legal ramifications and your rights, in addition to delineating three main steps to follow to ensure that circumstances are addressed timely and appropriately.
First, part of your dog bite responsibility is if your dog bites someone or another animal, be a good person and make sure that the victim is OK.
Part of dog bite responsibility is to get your dogs’ vaccination records ready in the event that medical treatment is necessary. This is beneficial for two reasons:
1) if your dog is up to date with their vaccinations, then there is no need for animal control to take your dog and quarantine them for several days in order to observe the animal for signs of rabies; and
2) if the dog is up to date on its vaccinations, then there is no need for the victim to receive painful rabies vaccinations, which can later be added to demands for reimbursement and pain and suffering.
Second, another part of dog bite responsibility is to get a police report. Dog bites are not always cut and dry; it isn’t always Cudjo out on a rampage picking off small children and helpless animals. Usually, there’s more than one dog and there is some degree of culpability for dog bite responsibility on both sides. This is called “contributory negligence”.
Now is a good time to introduce Layman’s Lessons in Law #1:
In Florida, the owners of dogs are ‘strictly liable’ (that means dog bite responsibility, no matter what) for the damage their dogs cause to other people or animals, regardless of whether or not they knew of the dog’s propensity for viciousness prior to the injury.
Layman’s Lessons in Law #2:
Now, even though you are responsible for your dog biting someone or something, you may not necessarily be 100% liable. If the victim was taunting or provoking your dog, or if your dog was defending itself against another dog that was off-leash, for example, then the victim shares dog bite responsibility.
That’s contributory negligence and that reduces your overall percentage of liability. These are circumstances that can be explained to an animal control or police officer, which will be included in the report and can later be used to reduce or possibly eliminate your liability in court.
The last part of dog bite responsibility is don’t panic. So often I have clients call that are terrified that they’ll be sued for millions of dollars because a dog nipped their neighbor.
First, dog bites happen, it’s just a part of life sometimes.
Second, it’s a personal injury attorney’s M.O. to make a mountain out of a molehill; request the medical records and bills and see what the actual injuries are and if there is a reasonable offer you can make to reimburse the victim for their medical bills or veterinary bills.
Third, do you have a million dollars? Because if you do not, then they can’t get blood from a stone, as the adage goes. You cannot give what you do not have, and that includes paying on any potential judgments.
We know it can be scary and stressful when there is a dog bite or a dog fight, but for the most part, you and your dog are going to be OK. If someone is hurt, the right thing to do is face the music and help where appropriate.
If you or your pet are injured, don’t exploit the system or try to scare the dog owner- request what your owed and convalesce. If you didn’t have your arm torn off, don’t act as though you did- juries can see through that, and putting someone through an unnecessary lawsuit because you are feeling greedy that day is unethical.
When it comes to dog bite responsibility, Florida law is decisive and fair. Understanding your liability or lack thereof is an empowering position, and if you realistically practice these three steps, you and your pup are going to come out the other side unscathed.
Lauren N. Turner, Esq. is an Animal Law Attorney in South Florida. If you have questions about your rights and/or responsibilities contact her at 754-300-8640 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her on the web at LTurnerLaw.com
Speaking of responsibility, if you’ve got a big dog or a little dog, you should go read this article now!