Throughout the United States, the law says that dog owners must be legally responsible for anything their dog does. This ranges from the messes made through urine and defecation and the more severe responsibility of a dog attack that results in someone else getting injured.
But what kind of laws do dog owners face here in Florida?
In some states, dog ownership and legal responsibility for dog attacks work on a “strike” system. If, for example, you didn’t know that your dog was aggressive, and it attacked and bit someone, that lack of knowledge would work in your favor. You would be “off the hook” since you didn’t know, although if it happened again, you would face repercussions for ignoring the risk your dog presented.
Florida, however, does not have that legal mechanism in place. Florida is known as a “strict liability” state for dog ownership. This means that ignorance is no excuse, and even if you had no idea your dog was aggressive, you are still legally responsible if your dog surprises you and attacks someone, resulting in an injury or, worse yet, a death.
Of course, there are times when the law decides that a dog acting aggressively is not necessarily wrong. People who are unlawfully on a property, such as unauthorized personnel sneaking onto a commercial property or a thief climbing into the backyard of a homeowner, are under no such protections.
When dogs in these scenarios attack people without legal permission to be on a property, strict liability is lifted. This is especially true if there was criminal intent, such as a thief or rapist whose crime was prevented only because the dog on the property protected its owners.
Strict liability is not a 100% binary legal condition. In other words, it’s not just a matter of a dog, and the dog owner is found 100% guilty, while the person attacked is 100% innocent. As with car accidents, Florida is a “comparative fault” state. This means that the law allows the victim to have had some minor—or even a major—hand in contributing to the accident.
For example, a child walking down the street and being attacked by a dog allowed to run loose would likely find the owner completely guilty of the dog attack. However, if a friendly dog is in the home, and an adult, with permission, visits, then kicks the dog, and the dog bites as a result of the kick, the adult would share some or even most of the fault for the dog attack.
However, if you’ve been the victim of an unprovoked dog attack, you should make sure you are properly compensated. Talk to a dog bite injury lawyer about what to do next.