Dog bites can result in devastating injuries, especially those that comes from attack or guard dogs. That is one reason why Florida law imposes strict liability on dog owners when their dogs attack people. The law in dog bite cases is clear:
The owner of any dog that bites any person . . . is liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness. However, any negligence on the part of the person bitten that is a proximate cause of the biting incident reduces the liability of the owner of the dog by the percentage that the bitten person’s negligence contributed to the biting incident.((§ 767.04, Fla. Stat. (2011).))
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There are two exceptions to this rule: one allows for considering how actions the person bitten may have contributed to the attack; the other pertains when the dog bite occurs on private property and the owner has posted a “Bad Dog” sign.(( § 767.04, Fla. Stat. (2011). ))
In a recent case handled by another Florida dog bite injury law firm, two guard dogs from a Miami K-9 company were supplied to a commercial business to provide overnight security. In the morning, when a K-9 employee returned to feed and tend to the dogs, both dogs had escaped the fenced yard after the business had been burglarized, and they had entered the property of a neighbor, Ms. Arellano.
Ms. Arellano mistakenly believed the dogs were the friendly pets of another neighbor, took the dogs in and fed them, and provided shelter for them. She also the neighborhood watch group by e-mail, and called the County Animal Services, asking about reports of missing dogs.
Ms. Arellano had two pet dogs of her own, and when she allowed the guard dogs into her fenced yard, she made sure her own pets remained inside her home. When she arrived home from work each evening, she let her dogs out into her yard and then put the guard dogs in her laundry room. A few days later the guard dogs escaped from Ms. Arellano’s home. Believing the dogs were long gone, she let her two pet dogs loose into her yard.
However, the guard dogs soon returned to her home, one of them jumping her chain link fence. Somehow she was able to guide the two guard dogs temporarily back into her laundry room, but they broke free, and one of the guard dogs then attacked one of pet dogs in her front yard.
She tried to intervene, but the attacking guard dog bit her, severely injuring her big toe. She was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. Animal Control was called, came, and took custody of the guard dogs. Eventually, Animal Control determined that K-9 owned the guard dogs.
Ms. Arellano then sued K-9, alleging that it was strictly liable for her injuries, and requesting a trial by jury. The trial judge dismissed her case by entering a summary judgment for K-9, determining, “as a matter of law,” that Ms. Arellano’s actions in trying to break up the dog fight, while well intentioned, constituted an “intervening, superseding proximate cause,” which therefore relieved K-9 from any and all liability it may have owed to her. To make matters worse, the judge then also entered a $7,615.36 judgment, taxing the defendant’s costs against her.
Not surprisingly, Ms. Arellano appealed both the summary judgment (case number 3D15-2609) and the cost judgment (case number 3D16-314) to Florida’s 3rd District Court of Appeal. Fortunately, the appellate court reversed both judgments.((LISA ARELLANO, Appellant, vs. BROWARD K-9/MIAMI K-9 SERVICES, INC., etc., Appellee. 3rd District. Case Nos. 3D16-314 & 3D15-2609. L.T. Case No. 13-18732. Opinion filed November 30, 2016.)) Here’s why:
Florida’s law in dog bite cases is crystal clear. A dog owner is strictly liable for any injury caused by a dog’s biting of someone; and that dog’s owner’s liability is reduced only by the percentage of the injured party’s own comparative negligence that contributed to the incident.
The appellate court reasoned that the trial court’s rulings effectively stripped K-9 of its ownership of and legal responsibility for the dogs, which ignored the strict liability requirements of the law and misplaced common law theory by blaming Ms. Arellano for the attack and injury. This was simply wrong, and it deprived her of her right to a jury trial. Now a jury might decide that Ms. Arellano’s actions, in whole or in part, were a proximate cause of the incident, thereby reducing or even eliminating K-9’s liability, but that is a jury’s prerogative, not a judge’s.
That might have been appropriate had her claim, been based in negligence, but her claim was based upon section 767.04, which imposes on a dog owner strict liability for dog bite damages. And while the statute prescribes a limited exception to such strict liability, the plaintiff’s comparative negligence is a question a jury must answer. We applaud this decision because now Ms. Arellano will have her chance and her day in court, and she certainly is entitled to it.
DOG BITE ACCIDENT ATTORNEY–1-866-597-4529
If you have been injured by a dog bite, you might be entitled to sue the dog’s owners. Our law firm has over 25 years of experience with cases involving bites by dogs and other animals. Contact our lawyers today for a free legal consultation about your potential case.
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