You got a new bike for your birthday and decided to take it out for an inaugural ride at Flatwoods Park. It was a gorgeous day and you were nearing the end of the trail when you heard dogs barking up ahead. As you got closer you saw that they were Chow Chows running around off leash. You usually thought of this breed as super cute, but as you kept riding it seemed like they had locked their sites on you and they now seemed pretty aggressive. You weren't sure whether you should speed up and get out of there, or slow down and show them you meant no harm. You decided to stop, catch your breath and hold out your hand so they could see you weren't a threat. Bad move. One jumped up, bit your arm and drew blood. What do you do now? What can you expect? Here is some basic information to help you with your dog bite in Tampa.
For a general overview you may wish to check out the FindLaw section on Dog Bites and Animal Attacks, as this article contains information specific to Hillsborough County.
First Things First
The first and most important thing to do after a dog bite is to clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical attention. If possible, however, before you leave the scene, you should try to gather as much information about the dog as you can. This would include things like the owner's name and contact information, the dog's color, breed, and size (you may want to take a picture), and any animal registration information. It should be noted that under Hillsborough County law, all dogs 4 months and older must be vaccinated for rabies, registered, and issued a tag which they must wear when outside.
This is also a good time to collect evidence regarding the incident itself. To that end, get the contact information of any witnesses and take photographs of your injuries and the scene.
It's also a helpful to the public to report the dog bite to Hillsborough County Animal Services at 813-744-5660.
What Is The Dog Owner's Legal Responsibility?
Under Florida law, the owner of any dog that bites someone who is in a public place, or lawfully in a private place, "is liable for the damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners' knowledge of such viciousness." Florida follows a "strict liability" theory in this regard.
There is an exception written into the statute that provides that dog owners can, in certain circumstances, escape liability under this law if, at the time of the bite, they had a "Bad Dog" sign prominently on display on their premises.
What If You Were Partially at Fault?
The same "strict liability" statute above does include a provision that states that if you acted negligently and your negligence caused the bite, the dog owner's liability is reduced by the percentage of your fault. So, for example, if your damages were $50,000 and you were 20% responsible, you would be able to pursue $40,000 (or 80%).
What If The Dog Has Already Been Declared Dangerous?
If the dog in question has previously been declared dangerous, and bites someone without provocation, the owner is subject to criminal charges, which vary depending on the extent of the injuries. A simple bite is a first-degree misdemeanor, whereas a bite that causes severe injury or death is a third degree felony. In either case the dog will be confiscated by an animal control authority, held for 10 days and "thereafter destroyed in an expeditious and humane manner." The dog owner does have an opportunity to file for a hearing on the destruction of the dog within this 10-day period.
Even if the dog has not previously been declared dangerous, but the bite results in serious injury or death, the dog will be confiscated as above. Moreover, "if the owner of the dog had prior knowledge of the dog's dangerous propensities, yet demonstrated a reckless disregard for such propensities under the circumstances," the owner is guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor.
If you pursue legal action against the dog's owner, this would likely be brought in the Hillsborough County Circuit Court (County Civil Division for amounts less than $15,000; Circuit Civil Division for amounts of $15,000 and above). Bear in mind that you can't wait forever to file your lawsuit. Essentially, in Tampa, and the rest of Florida, the statute of limitations (time limit) for a dog bite claim is 4 years.
What Can I Recover In A Dog Bite Case?
Depending on the specifics of your case, you would generally be entitled to medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering and more. Refer to this FindLaw article on Economic Recovery for Accidents and Injuries for a more detailed explanation of the types of damages that may be available.
Note, too, that the dog owner himself (who may be your neighbor or friend) won't necessarily be pulling out his personal checkbook to pay for your damages. Instead, in many cases, it is insurance (homeowner's, automobile, or animal) that pays.
Do I Need An Attorney?
It is recommended that you at least consult with a personal injury attorney after sustaining a dog bite. A skilled lawyer can help evaluate your case and if you decide to work together, can help obtain the maximum compensation that you are due. In many cases personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis which means that their fees are paid out of your recovery. Check out this FindLaw section on Using A Personal Injury Lawyer for additional resources and information.
Contact a qualified attorney.