Hundreds of Floridians are hurt enough by malicious dogs each year to cause trips to the hospital. Every year a few dozen of those trips to the hospital will end in the patient’s death. Negligent dog handling is a big deal in Florida and the government has enacted fairly strict laws governing the penalties that dog owners face if their animals attack other human beings.
Florida uses three key tort law approaches to holding dog owners responsible for the injuries caused by their animals: landlord liability, the dog bite statute, and negligence per se.
Florida’s Dog Bite Statute
The dog bite statute imposes liability on any owner whose dog bites a human being while the victim was in a public place or lawfully in a private place (including the property of the owner).
Unlike many other states, Florida does not have a “free bite” law, which allows the owner to escape liability for the first time the dog injures someone. Florida dog owners are liable for injury the very first time their dog mauls another person, regardless of whether they had knowledge of any vicious habits of the dog.
However, if the bitten person had done something to provoke the dog before being bitten, the dog’s owner could argue that this was the proximate cause of the dog bite and escape liability.
Negligence Per Se
The legal doctrine of negligence per se states that when injury to one party arises from another’s violation of any statute establishing a duty to take precautions to protect certain people from a certain injury, the second party is liable. In this case, if the city or county that you live in has established a leash law and is roaming free and bites you, the dog’s owner is liable in negligence per se for violating the statute. Not only would he be liable to the city or county for the leash law fees, but also to you for your injuries.
Florida landlords have a duty to protect their tenants from vicious dogs of which the landlord has knowledge. If someone in your building has a vicious dog and the landlord knows about it, Florida case law states that the landlord has assumed liability to the other tenants to take reasonable precautions to protect the co-tenants from foreseeable injuries caused by the dog.
However, this type of liability only applies to visitors who are lawfully on the premises. It rightly does not protect trespassers from injury.