Dogs are colloquially known as “man’s best friend.” There are an estimated 90 million dogs in the United States and approximately one-third of these dogs have homes. Based on estimates from the Center for Disease Control, there may be an estimated 800,000 dog bites per year in the United States. However, many of these dog bites, an estimated 70 percent according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), are from dogs that are not neutered. Further, dogs that are chained, tethered or used for dog fighting are also more likely to attack—approximately 2.8 times more likely than a dog that is not involved in those conditions. The elderly, children and postal workers are the most common dog bite victims.
Physical association with dog bites may include minor to moderate to severe injuries, and even death.
- Skin punctures and wounds, some of which may be moderate and in need of stitches to more severe wounds that require skin grafting, and may lead to scarring and disfigurement, along with loss of mobility
- Bacterial infection as a result of the dog bite wound
- Bites that affect skin, tissue, muscles, and bones
- Serious dog bites include deep wounds and mauling.
Dog bite victims may also suffer emotional distress after the traumatic event. The victims may be unable to return to their previous way of life, and depending on the specifics of the victim’s situation, the victim’s family may be greatly affected, too.
There are a number of laws in various states that may apply to the 4.5 million dog bites that occur in the United States every year. Florida law states that a dog owner may be held liable for damages that arise from a dog bite in a public or private place, even if the dog did not previously have aggressive behavior. Florida statutes dictate this “strict liability” rule:
“The owner of any dog that bites any person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, is liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners’ knowledge of such viciousness.”
This means that if someone is lawfully on the property where the dog bite occurs, then the dog owner is liable for all damages caused by the bite even if the owner had no prior knowledge that the dog may bite before the incident occurred. Therefore, the dog bite victim does not have the burden of proof of showing that the dog owner is liable.
Even though Florida has a strict liability rule regarding dog bites, a dog owner may not be liable for damages if the bitten person showed negligence that contributed to the incident. For example, reasons in which a dog owner’s liability would be reduced include:
- The bitten person was not lawfully on the property where the incident happened, and trespassing occurred
- Signs on the property indicate the danger and viciousness of the dog, such as a sign that reads “Bad Dog”
When the dog owner and the bitten person share liability for the dog bite, Florida’s comparative negligence rule applies, and the damages are awarded based on the percentage that each person is at fault. For example, if the victim of the dog bite is found to be 25 percent liable for the injury, the dog owner is responsible for 75 percent of the damages paid out to the victim. Another reason an owner would no longer be liable for a dog bite is when the bitten person does not file a lawsuit within four years from the date of the accident.
The average insurance payout for dog bites is $50,245, according to AARP. Usually, homeowners and renters’ insurance policies cover dog bite liability and legal expenses. These policies may range anywhere from $100,000 – $300,000. However, not all dog breeds are covered under these policies, so it is important to review your homeowners or renters’ insurance if you have a dog. While the liability portion of your homeowner’s insurance may cover damages caused by dogs, including injuries, certain breeds of dogs are typically banned from coverage by insurance companies.
- Pit bulls, which includes Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, American Bull Terriers and American Staffordshire Bull Terriers
- German Shepherds
- Mixed dog breeds that include Rottweilers, Pit bulls and German Shepherds
- If your insurer won’t cover your dog, shop around and compare
Homeowners insurance may also not cover the following dogs:
- Guard dogs
- Dogs that have had a history with a biting incident
- Dogs that have had a history with violently setting upon or attacking another animal or person
- Dogs that have an aggressive, namely viscous, temperament, according to insurance company employee
What to do if you have been bitten by a dog
- If someone has been injured and requires medical attention, 911 should be called immediately
- After seeking medical attention, share contact information with the owner of the dog
- If there are witnesses, ask them for their contact information
- Take pictures of the bite incident scene from various angles
- If possible, take pictures of your injuries, and continue to document the injuries with pictures as time goes on
- You may also want to report the dog bite to your local animal control to help prevent further dog bites in the area and in case there is an investigation with your case
Do I need an attorney after I have been bitten by a dog?
While many dog bites will not need a lawsuit to settle due to the typical coverage provided by homeowner’s insurance, a lawyer may help you understand your legal options and help you navigate the claims process to receive the best medical care possible following the accident. And if you are having problems recovering the compensation you deserve, you might want to consider contacting a personal injury lawyer about your claim. If homeowners’ insurance does not cover the dog bite, a consultation with a personal injury may help you with the next steps to receive compensation for your losses.