Dogs are vital members of American households. Statistics show that 68% of American homes contain at least one pet, 53% of these, being dogs. That means that at least 63.4 million households in America have at least one dog. Dogs are great sources of companionship, fun, and have been shown to help improve overall health, as they help to reduce stress. Unfortunately, these furry balls of love, affection, and stress relief are still animals and they bite – causing severe injuries to their victims.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that there are about 4.5 million dog bite attacks every year. Of these, about 800, 000 people require medical attention. Injuries inflicted by dog bites range from infectious to causing permanent scarring or disfigurement, to death. Sustaining severe injuries, or even worse, losing a loved one to a dog bite is a highly traumatic experience. The injuries to a person extend beyond the physical into the psychological as well.
If you or a loved one sustained injuries from a dog bite, you could be facing a long journey to recovery. Aside from the pain of having your skin pierced or mutilated by canine teeth, you are at risk of suffering infections from the attack. Recovering from the attack may also include your needing plastic surgery. All of this is in addition to the medical bills that pile up as a result of hospital visits, medications, and any extra care your injuries call for.
Being injured is bad in itself; having to pay out of pocket to treat yourself is worse – way worse. You should not only have your medical bills taken care of by the party that caused your injuries (in this case, the owner(s) of the dog that attacked you), you should also be compensated for your injuries.
To get this compensation, however, you need to retain the services of a Clearwater dog bite lawyer as quickly as possible after the attack. Your attorney will go over the facts of the case with you and counsel you on what to expect.
The Clearwater personal injury attorneys at Denmon Pearlman are some of the best there is in all of Florida. Because we understand the terrible toll a dog bite attack exerts on its victims, we do not leave any stone unturned when we pursue justice for our clients. Reach out to us for a free case evaluation to understand what your case is worth and what chances you have.
Florida’s Dog Bite Laws
Florida’s Statute, Section 767.04 holds that the owner of a dog may be held liable if said dog bites another person, and that person is in a public place or lawfully in a private place (including the property of the owner of the dog.)
Before this statute, the state of Florida followed the common law, which held that a dog owner can only be held liable if they had reason to know that their dog was dangerous. That is to say, that you could only hold a dog owner liable if that dog had bitten someone before. Thus, if the dog had never bitten a person before, the owner had no reason to know that their dog was dangerous or had a propensity to bite, and could not be held liable.
The downside to this law was that dog bite victims could not recover damages for their injuries if the dog was a first-time offender, the extent of injuries notwithstanding. To this end, the legislative arm of Florida’s government instituted a strict liability on dog bites.
What is Strict Liability and How Does It Affect Your Dog Bite Case?
Strict liability in dog bite cases means that you can hold the owner of a dog responsible if the dog bites you. You do not need to prove that the owner of the dog was negligent, thus leading to the dog biting you.
You also do not need to prove that the owner of the dog had had prior knowledge of the dog’s propensity to bite. All you need to prove is that the dog bit you and you were injured as a result of the bite. You can hold the dog’s owner liable for your injuries and recover damages as a result.
Sometimes, however, a dog may bite a person because of negligence on the part of the victim. In such cases, the Florida dog bite statute allows for the damages for the dog bite to be mitigated. This is known as comparative negligence and it says that the amount of recovery a dog bite victim is entitled to will be reduced by the percentage of the victim’s negligence.
Exceptions to Strict Liability in Dog Bite Cases
The statute goes on to provide an exception to strict liability in cases where the dog owner had a prominently displayed sign that said, “Bad dog”. If this is the case, the dog owner cannot be held liable for dog bites unless the victim of the attack is younger than six years old or the dog attacked a person because its owner was negligent.
Other instances where the owner of a dog may be exempt from liability are:
- If the dog was owned, or in the service of a law enforcement agency
- If the dog was used as a service dog.
- If the dog was a hunting dog
- If the dog was engaged in legal dog training or exhibitions
Serious Injuries in Dog Bite Attacks
Most dog bite attacks leave minor injuries, as is reflected in the fact that out of 4.5 million dog bite attacks, only 800,000 need medical attention. However, of those 800,000, many can be severe injuries such as:
- Multiple bite marks, bruises, cuts, and puncture wounds to the body
- Bone fractures
- Body lacerations
- Infections on the sites of the injuries
- Complications arising from the dog bite injuries causing partial disability in victims
- Crushing (head/skull injuries)
- Permanent scarring and/or disfigurement
- Psychological injuries (post-traumatic stress disorder)
- Soft tissue injuries
One report showed that serious injuries from dog attacks can require between $250,000 and $1million in medical care. One report by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) stated that about 27,000 victims of dog bite attacks have to undergo reconstructive surgery every year, such as skin grafting, reconstruction, and scar diminishment. Some victims require multiple procedures over several years.
Statistics also show that the most common victims of dog bites are children between the ages of five and nine, elderly people, and post letter carriers.
What is the Average Settlement for a Dog Bite Case?
Settlements for dog bite cases depend on the specifics of each case. Factors such as
- The extent of injuries
- The cause of the attack (whether the dog was provoked or not)
- Whether the dog had bitten someone in the past
Each of these factors determines how much settlement can be awarded in a dog bite case. For example, if a dog had bitten someone in the past, and then attacked another person sometime after, the number of damages the second person will recover will be likely more than that which the first person would recover.
On average, a dog bite case settles for between $35,000 and $40,000. Sometimes, these claims are paid out via the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. Some homeowner’s insurance policies include coverage for dog bite injuries in certain conditions, such as if the attack happened on the premises of the insured home.
Damages that can be recovered in dog bite cases include:
- Damages for medical expenses caused by the attack, past, and future
- Damages for mental and emotional stress caused by the attack
- Damages for pain and suffering
- Loss of income due to an inability to work because of the attack, past, and future***
- Any personal property damaged because of the attack such as mobile devices
- Loss of consortium suffered by the victim’s spouse due to their partner’s dog bite injuries
***Some dog bite injuries are severe enough that the victim may no longer be able to work in their previous jobs, and would have to settle for lesser paying jobs. Claims can be made for this type of damage, as well.
What to Do If a Dog Bites You
Your first order of business after a dog bite attack is to get medical attention. You do not know the vaccination history of the dog in question, so you do not know if you are at risk of infection. Even if the dog’s vaccination is up to date, you still stand the risk of a tetanus infection. Thus, getting properly treated should be your first call.
You also need to take down as much information as possible. This includes documenting your injuries, getting the dog owner’s information (including insurance information), the location of the attack, the time, and the events leading up to the attack. Having photographs of your injuries, the dog, and the location also helps your case.
Contact the police, file a police report and get a copy of the report. This, together with medical reports and Animal Control reports constitute compelling pieces of evidence and lends credibility to your case.
Get a Clearwater dog bite attorney as quickly as possible. Your attorney will advise you on your legal options and what your next steps should be. In most personal injury cases, plaintiffs have to deal with the insurance policy providers of the defendants.
Insurance companies are designed to make a profit and reduce overhead. Thus, they will do all they can to avoid paying out the full value of your claim. This includes getting an insurance adjuster to speak with you on your own and getting your version of events.
This is bad for your case as the adjuster is actually fishing for what they can use against you and if they can get you to say something that will harm your case, they will. Therefore, you should let your Clearwater dog bite attorney deal with the insurance companies for you.
An experienced dog bite attorney will be able to negotiate a favorable settlement for you and if settlement talks fail, take the case to trial. The personal injury lawyers at Denmon Pearlman are experienced trial lawyers who will not hesitate to take your case to trial if the liable party does not give you the compensation you deserve.
Statute of Limitations on Dog Bite Cases in Clearwater, Florida
Florida Statutes section 95.11 gives four years for a plaintiff to file a personal injury lawsuit with the court. If this time passes without a suit being filed, the defendant loses the right to file for damages for that injury.
Dog bite cases fall under personal injury lawsuits, thus, you have four years in which to file your liability suit. Note that the statute of limitations does not say that the case must have been completed in four years. You just have to get the case started before the timeline lapses.
Our personal injury attorneys can help you file your case with the appropriate court and keep you in the loop on how things are progressing while you concentrate on recovering fully from your injuries.
What Are the Possible Penalties and Sentencing in a Dog Bite Case?
Most times, dog owners are subjected to civil liabilities, where they are held liable for all damages suffered by the dog bite victim. Sometimes, however, a dog owner may be subjected to criminal penalties. Instances in which a dog owner may be facing criminal penalties are:
- When the dog had been declared a dangerous animal, especially because it had previously attacked someone.
- When the dog attack is considered severe even if the dog had not been previously declared dangerous.
If the dog had been previously declared dangerous and it bit or attacked again, the dog owner will be facing a charge of a first-degree misdemeanor, with a penalty of up to 365 days in prison. Additional penalties are the confiscation and euthanizing of the dog, and the dog owner will be made to pay all boarding costs and fees.
If the dog had been previously declared dangerous and it attacks again and causes severe injury or death, the owner will be facing a third-degree felony charge, with a penalty of up to five years in prison.
If the dog had not been previously determined dangerous, but it caused severe injury or death, the dog will be confiscated and euthanized.
If the dog owner had prior knowledge that the dog had a propensity to bite and attack, he or she could be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor with a penalty of up to 60 days in prison, and a fine of $500.
What Are the Possible Defenses in a Dog Bite Case?
There are three potential defenses a dog owner may employ in a dog bite liability suit. They are:
- The bitten person was negligent;
- The bitten person was trespassing;
- The bitten person was engaged in criminal activity; or
- The dog was provoked.
Should I Get a Clearwater Dog Bite Lawyer?
Yes, you should get a Clearwater dog bite lawyer for a dog bite attack. Even more importantly, you should retain the services of our dog bite attorneys at Denmon Pearlman. Here are a few reasons why:
Our attorneys have excellent negotiation skills. We know all there is to know about the technicalities of dog bite cases, including their drawbacks and any loopholes that might hurt your case. Insurance companies are notorious for exploiting loopholes and using them to avoid paying out full claims. With our knowledge of those loopholes, we can negotiate a fair settlement for you.
Our attorneys have experienced trial lawyers. When we take on your case, we handle it as though we expect it to get to court. That way, you benefit fully from our experience whether your case gets to court or not. If settlement negotiations fail and we resort to litigation, we are not caught flat-footed and don’t need to scramble to build a case for you.
We Treat You Like Family
Our attorneys provide all-around support for you. At its heart, our firm is a family; we believe in treating our clients like family. That means working for the best result on your case no matter how small and always keeping you informed. Additionally, we understand that you are not only dealing with physical injuries from the attack. You are also contending with emotional and psychological issues.
We have learned that open communication helps our clients make better decisions through the process leading to the best possible results. For that reason, when you hire us, the attorney assigned to you will be available to you round the clock, standing with you and helping you and your family get through this painful period.
Reach out to us today for a free case evaluation to understand what your case is worth and what chances you have.