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The Ins and Outs of Dog Bite Liability Laws


Dogs are man’s best friend. But because of that, we tend to forget that they are also animals, and animals that care capable of doing us serious harm. When dogs injure people, victims can get compensation for their injuries, but the law when it comes to liability for dogs, isn’t as easy and straightforward as you may think.

What is Strict Liability?

Owners have strict liability for dog bites and injuries caused by dogs.

Strict liability means that the victim doesn’t have to prove negligence, and doesn’t even have to prove that the dog’s owner did anything wrong. The mere fact that the dog bit the victim, is proof enough that the owner is liable.

Often, owners of dogs who bite people will say they had “no idea the dog was dangerous,” or they will say “he’s never done that before.” While that may be a sympathetic and understandable argument, it is not a legal defense; dog owners are liable for what their dog does, even if the dog’s behavior was out of the ordinary or unanticipated.

All the victim needs to prove is that he or she was injured, and that the bite was the cause of the injuries.

Non Biting Injuries

Dogs can harm people in other ways. Sometimes, those ways aren’t when the dog is being aggressive or malicious—it can even be playful, such as when a dog jumps up on someone and knocks them over, or when a dog accidentally scratches someone when playing. There are even cases where dogs accidentally stepped on forearms, discharging the weapon, and injuring others.

Defenses to Dog Injures

Regardless of how it happens, the dog’s owners are liable, but there are defenses to dog bite claims, that victims need to navigate.

One defense is provocation—if the victim did something to provoke the dog into biting or injuring the dog owner can use this as a defense. A jury may have to determine if what someone did, legitimately provoked the dog into a certain kind of behavior.

Victims also need to be on the property legally, wherever it is that they are bitten; trespassers cannot sue for dog bites. Because people like emergency responders, or city workers, can legally enter property, owners of dogs are liable when these workers are injured by dogs—they are not trespassers.

Putting up a dangerous dog sign will absolve the owner of any bites that happen on the owner’s property. However, the sign does not absolve owners when the dog is not at home, such as if the dog were to bite someone while walking on a leash, or if the dog were to get loose, and then injure someone.

Who is Liable?

Ownership of the dog is sometimes disputed. Often, a family member is watching a dog for a long term period of time, or a boyfriend and girlfriend may share ownership of a dog, or an adult child is watching a dog for an elderly parent. Defendants can and do contest ownership of dogs that injure people.

Injured by a dog? Let us help. Contact the Tampa personal injury lawyers at Barbas, Nunez, Sanders, Butler & Hovsepian and schedule a consultation today.


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