The United States is a nation of dog owners, and South Florida is no exception. This may be one of the reasons that many dog bite victims are hesitant to take legal action after they’ve been injured. However, the law is designed to hold the dog owner accountable, not the dog. When dog bite victims have a full understanding of how these matters work, they feel more comfortable moving forward with their accident claims.
At Long, Jean & Wechsler, P.A., we represent accident victims who dogs have attacked. Before you dismiss the idea of filing a legal claim for a dog bite, contact us for a free consultation. If, after you’ve been informed of the legal facts, you still don’t want to pursue your claim, you’re under no obligation, and the consultation is still free.
Common Misconceptions About Dog Bite Cases
There is a great deal of “street knowledge” about dog bites, but much of it is incorrect. Here are some of the most common misconceptions about dog bite cases.
Myth #1 – For There to Be a Claim, There Must Be a History of Aggression
Even if the animal has never shown any signs of aggression in the past, a plaintiff can make a claim if they’re injured.
Myth #2 – The Owner Must Have Been Aware of the Dog’s Violent Nature in Order to Make a Claim
Florida is a strict liability state. This means that the owner is responsible for the attack, even if they were completely unaware that the dog was capable of this level of aggression.
Myth #3 – A Dog Bite Victim Can’t Make a Claim if the Bite Occurred on the Dog Owner’s Property
Many dog bites occur on the property of the owner. As long as the victim was on the property legally, they can pursue damages.
Myth #4 – If the Police Don’t File Charges, There’s No Civil Case
While criminal charges against the dog owner might strengthen your civil claim, it is not a prerequisite. Many incidents don’t have all of the elements necessary to file a criminal case. However, the bar is lower for civil claims. Long, Jean & Wechsler, P.A. will review your claim regardless of whether or not the police have decided to file charges.
Myth #5 – Dogs That Attack People are Euthanized
If a dog has attacked, bitten, or severely injured a person, it may be deemed to be a dangerous dog. If this is the case, the owner will have to take several measures to be able to keep the dog. If the dog attacks another person, it can be euthanized. Additionally, if the injuries to the victim are severe, the dog may be euthanized, regardless of whether it had previously been designated as a dangerous dog. This is not the objective of LJW Legal. We represent dog bite victims in their pursuit of damages for their injuries. The designation of a dog as “dangerous” is a function of law enforcement.
Liability of Dog Owners and Legal Responsibilities
As Myth #1 states, many dog owners are under the mistaken impression that as long as there have been no recorded attacks or bites in an animal’s history, they are not liable. The truth of the matter is that animal owners are responsible for any attack on humans, even if it’s the first time. This is referred to as strict liability. The defendant’s mental state is not a factor in strict liability cases.
To apply this principle to a dog bite, even if the dog owner believes that they have taken every precaution to prevent their dog from attacking someone — fence, chain, lessons, etc. — if the dog still manages to bite or attack a victim, the owner is liable for those damages.
Establishing the Four Elements of Liability in Dog Bite Cases
In order to have a viable case, the plaintiff’s attorney must be able to show that it meets the four elements of liability: Duty of Care, Breach of Duty, Causation, and Damages. Here’s how this might work with a dog attack.
1. Does the Dog Owner Have a Duty of Care?
Most pet owners are aware of their duty to protect others from their animals. This means ensuring that the dog is vaccinated, trained, and restrained. Even if the dog doesn’t leave the owner’s property, the owner still has a duty of care to any guests or visitors that legally enter the premises.
2. Did the Dog Owner Somehow Breach Their Duty?
Because the strict liability principle applies to dog attacks, the plaintiff must only show that it was the responsibility of the pet owner to ensure that the dog did not attack people. Where this element becomes difficult to prove is in situations where the plaintiff may have provoked the dog or their legal right to be in the space where the attack occurred is in question.
3. Did the Breach of Duty Cause the Accident?
Again, because the strict liability principle applies, the fact that there was a dog attack indicates that the dog owner somehow failed in their duty. For instance, if a postal carrier is attacked when a dog breaks through the screening on a porch, an attorney might show that the owner’s failure to contain the dog in a more secure location led to its breaking free and attacking.
4. Are There Damages?
The victim of a dog attack must show that they suffered damages of some kind. Most dog injuries lead to medical expenses, but that’s only a portion of comprehensive damages, which we will review in the next section.
During your initial consultation with Long, Jean & Wechsler, we will review your case to determine if all four elements are present. If so, we can immediately represent you on a contingency basis with no out-of-pocket fees.
Compensation Available For Dog Bite Victims
There are three types of compensation potentially available to dog bite victims. Economic and non-economic damages are compensatory in nature, and punitive damages, which are not always awarded, are punitive.
These are all financial damages associated with the dog bite, including all medical expenses, lost wages, property damage, etc.
Also referred to as “pain and suffering,” non-economic damages compensate victims for physical pain, emotional trauma, inconvenience, etc.
Punitive damages are not common in dog attacks, but they are additional damages charged to the defendant for reckless or egregious behavior. For example, if the owner set their dog on the victim or trained the dog to bite people, the court might award punitive damages. While Florida does not cap compensatory damages, the limit on punitive damages is the greater of $500,000 or three times compensatory damages.
Steps to Take After a Dog Bite Incident For a Successful Claim
If you are bitten by a dog, these steps can help you to remain safe and to strengthen your claim.
- Get to a Safe Place – Until you’ve separated yourself from the dog, you’re still in danger. Cautiously get to a safe place.
- Call the Police – You will need a police report for your claim. Additionally, the police can verify the dog’s vaccination records.
- Take Photos – If it’s safe, document the scene by taking pictures of the animal, your injuries, and any enclosures, leashes, or other items that failed to protect you from the attack.
- Get Witness Information – Talk to anyone who may have seen the accident. Also, note the location of any CCTVs that may have captured the incident.
- Seek Medical Attention – This is particularly important if you have open wounds that could become infected. However, you will need to document all injuries to recover full compensation.
- Talk to an Attorney – If you’re located in South Florida, LJW Legal offers free consultations. Call today for a complimentary case evaluation.
South Florida Dog Bite Lawyers
Many dog bite victims are hesitant to report attacks. However, any delay in filing your claim can jeopardize your case. Contact a dog bite lawyer at Long, Jean & Wechsler, P.A. Our attorneys can help you map out the course you need to take for a full recovery. Call today!