Contrary to both urban legend and the actual laws of 14 states, under Florida law, dog owners do not get "one free bite" before they can be held liable for damages caused as a result of their dog biting another person. Florida Statute 767.04 states that " the owner of any dog that bites any person while that person is in a public place, or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, is liable for damages suffered by the person bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners' knowledge of such viciousness".
As such, Florida is a "strict liability" state and does not require any evidence that the owner knew or should have known the violent tendencies of their dog. That being said, there are three available defenses under which the dog owner can either avoid or limit their liability. The first is "comparative negligence", or as set out by the statute as : " any negligence on the part of the person bitten that is a proximate cause of the biting incident reduces the liability of the owner of the dog by the percentage that the bitten person's negligence contributed to the biting incident". This might be proven where a person antagonizes a dog and/or ignores the owner's warnings to stay away from or leave the dog alone.
The second defense is where the bitten person was trespassing at the time he or she was bitten. While property owners have a limited duty to protect even trespassers from certain dangers on their land, that duty does not generally extend to persons who unlawfully enter the premises and are subsequently bitten by the owner's dog.
Thirdly, dog owners can protect themselves from liability if they had displayed, prior to the biting incident an easily readable "Bad Dog" sign in a prominent place on their property. This exception is limited however, and does not apply to persons under the age of 6 or where there is evidence that the owner was in fact negligent and such negligence was the cause of the person's injuries.
The bottom line is that if a person is injured as a result of a dog bite, while the presumption of liability is fairly strong, the plaintiff in any claim for damages must be prepared to rebut any allegations of comparative negligence. If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a dog bite, please contact Attorney Heyman at the Heyman Law Firm at 727-822-3700 for a no-cost consultation.
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