West Palm Beach, Florida is a melting pot - the lovely weather and coastal location attract all types of people from all over the world. So, too, are there all kinds of dogs here. Anything from tiny Chihuahuas to massive Great Danes can also enjoy the South Florida weather. West Palm Beach has tons of parks and dog friendly beaches to make any playful pup - and their owners - very happy. Unfortunately, even the best dogs can cause another person injury, which can bring both the dog's owners and the injured person to court.
Whose fault is it when a dog bites someone else?
Florida imposes "strict liability" on owners of dogs who bite someone else. This means that if your dog bites someone else in a public place or while the person is legally on your property, it's your fault and you or your insurance will probably have to pay. You may have heard that each dog gets a "free bite," or that someone will have to show that you knew the dog was vicious beforehand in order for you to be liable for injuries the dog causes. This is not the case in Florida, although it might be true for other states.
However, the Florida law does not impose pure strict liability. If a jury concludes that someone else was partially at fault by provoking the dog, the money you or your insurance will have to pay will be reduced.
Additionally, if you kept a sign on and obvious place on your property that contained the words"beware of dog" or "bad dog" in big, bold letters, then Florida law considers visitors to your property warned about the presence of your dog. You are therefore not liable for any injuries to your guests.
If the victim of the dog bite is a child six years or younger, dog owners face strict liability regardless of the number of warning signs or how much the dog was provoked by the child. The Florida legislature reasons that young children may not be able to read warning signs, and might not know that pulling a dog's ears, tail, nose or otherwise antagonizing a dog might cause a dog to attack. The one exception to this rule is if the child's parent was present and failed to supervise the child properly. In this case, the child's parent may take some of the blame.
Who pays for dog bite injuries?
One of the most common dog bit scenarios is when an unfamiliar business person comes to the property, and a dog on the property tries to defend the house by attacking the business person. In this case, as in other cases that occur in and around the home, homeowner's insurance (for renters, renters' insurance usually covers this) will most likely cover the claim. This means that homeowners' insurance will pay for the victim's injuries and may even provide an attorney for your defense. Sometimes, owning certain breeds of dogs, such as pit bulls, will raise your insurance premium because of the breed's reputation for violence.
If a dog bites someone from inside a car, auto insurance might cover it, so check your auto insurance policy to see what's covered and what's not.
Finally, some insurance companies offer completely separate insurance policies for pets that might not otherwise be insured.
What happens to the dog after a bite?
After the first bite, the dog can return home. However, owners should be aware that if the dog bites again, the punishments could be much worse.
First, a dog who has bitten someone twice (or more) will be impounded for at least 10 days so that a professional can evaluate whether the dog is fit to return home. The dog's owner can request a hearing during this time to help determine the fate of the dog.
Second, the owner now faces criminal charges. The reasoning behind this is that the owner knew the dog might attack certain people, and therefore the dog is dangerous to the public. Owners of these dogs may wish to take precautions, such as enrolling in obedience school, building strong animal enclosures, and getting a few warning signs. These precautions may not help your legal case, but they might prevent another injury.
Contact a qualified attorney.