Non-Owners May be Liable for a Dog Bite Incident
In Florida, there are statutes imposing strict liability upon dog owners for injuries their dogs cause to others. However, dog owners can protect themselves from such liability, by taking proactive steps such as purchasing homeowners insurance and posting bad dog signs. While these steps are important for any dog owner to take, it might surprise you to learn that non-dog owners should also consider taking similar actions. This is because there can be situations where individuals will need protection from liability even if a dog involved in a biting incident is owned by someone else.
The Duty of a Non-Owner
Florida Statutes covering dog bites create a strict liability standard for dog owners only. However, an individual merely caring for someone else’s dog could still be found liable under a theory of negligence if the dog bites someone and causes injury, even though the caretaker is not deemed strictly liable. What this means is that, while a dog owned by someone else is in your house or on your property, you owe a duty to invited guests to protect them from dangerous conditions. A dog bite victim could allege that you failed to meet this duty to protect them and, along with the dog’s owner, you could be found liable.
Ways to Protect Yourself
People who temporarily care for dogs or have guests who bring dogs to their homes can take steps to protect against being subject to claims made by dog bite victims.
Ask questions about the visiting dog.
If friends or relatives are coming to your house with their dog, make sure you know the dog’s disposition. This way you can let others at your house know about it and put them on guard. You may also choose to tell your friends not to bring the dog to your home if you know beforehand that it may be dangerous. Similarly, if you will be dog sitting, asking questions could alert you to prior dog bite incidents and it might be a good idea to decline the request to dog sit.
Provide warnings or get coverage
If there are dogs that do not belong to you that are regularly on your property, such as if you will be dog sitting for an extended period of time, you can take some of the same steps that the actual owners would take. For example, you can put up bad dog signs on your fence, door, or somewhere on your property where they will be easy for visitors to see. You can also purchase an insurance policy that will protect you against accidents involving dog bites. By taking these type of steps, it can serve as evidence of you attempting to meet your duty to maintain your premises in a safe condition for visitors and put them on notice. If a dog bite victim takes legal action, your proactive steps can help create a defense in case you are alleged to have been negligent in allowing someone else’s dog to bite someone while on your property or under your supervision.
Be careful of how you care for a dog
Even if you are only temporarily watching someone else’s dog, you need to be mindful of how you care for it, such as how long you agree to maintain custody of it and the types of things you do for the dog. Under common law, those who own a dog, have an interest in the dog or harbor the dog can be strictly liable for injuries caused by the animal. A person is said to have harbored a dog if he or she undertakes to care for the dog as the owners of such an animal would be accustomed to. This means that, if you demonstrate certain factors that indicate custody, care and control of the dog, like paying for its license or keeping it for a long period of time, you could owe a duty to others to protect them from the actions of the dog that you claim belongs to someone else.
If you have been the victim of a dog bite, or if you are a non-dog owner concerned about your level of protection from dog bite liability, you can receive more information by calling our office for a free consultation. Rue & Ziffra is a personal injury law firm handling various aspects of dog bite injury claims. Remember, if you or a loved one wishes to seek help for a dog bite injury, don’t hesitate to seek legal answers and information helpful to your unique situation.
The above entry is NOT LEGAL ADVICE and should not be intended or construed as such. It is intended only as general information. No individual reading it should act upon it. Reading this entry does not create any relationship between Rue & Ziffra and individuals reading it. If you have questions or concerns, please seek professional legal counsel.