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Seven Mistakes Not to Make if You Have Been Bitten by a Dog

The dog bite statute in the state of Florida is referred to as a “no free bite statute.” (F.S. 767.04) This means that the owner of a dog is liable for any money damages caused when his or her dog bites another individual, regardless of any prior knowledge of the dog biting somebody else or the tendency of the dog to bite someone else. Also, negligence does not have to be proven on behalf of the dog owner in order for a bite victim to receive compensation. However, the owner of the dog is not liable, except to a child under the age of 6, if at the time of the bite a “BAD DOG” sign is prominently displayed.

Dog Bite Statistics

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, there are at least 800,000 people that suffer injuries from dog bites who require medical attention and possibly legal help from an attorney. The vast majority of these dog bites occur in the dog owner’s home, when family members and personal friends are visiting. Children make up a disproportionately large percentage of dog bite victims, where bites rank as the second largest cause of child injuries only behind playground accidents. Mixed breed dogs along with Rottweiler’s and pit bulls make up the vast majority of dogs who bite.

Dog Bites and Insurance

Dog bite claims are increasingly excluded by homeowner’s insurance companies because they account for about 25% of all homeowner’s claims and over a billion dollars a year in insurance settlements. If you own a dog, you need to make sure that your homeowner’s insurance does not exclude dog bites from your coverage, and if it does, you need to purchase separate dog bite insurance or find an insurance company that does not exclude dog bites.

Common Mistakes Made by Dog Bite Victims

If you or a family member has been bitten by a dog, there are seven key mistakes that you should avoid:

  1. Failing to seek immediate medical care. If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog, you should seek immediate medical care, especially if your skin has been broken. A dog’s mouth contains bacteria that can cause severe infections and complications spreadable to other parts of your body. In addition, immediate medical care allows a professional to close any open wounds and thereby minimize the degree of scarring. From a legal standpoint, a visit to the emergency room or other medical facility will document the severity of your injury and create a paper trail that can be used later by your lawyer to prove your dog bite claim.
  2. Failing to notify the police and animal control. If you have been bitten by a dog it is vital to immediately notify the proper authorities in order to document the event and to quarantine the dog for rabies observation. Notifying animal control will also allow an investigation to be done by a trained professional that can help establish liability on behalf of the dog owner. In my (over 20) years of experience as a personal injury and dog bite injury attorney, I have been hired on more than one occasion to represent a dog bite victim because the owner of a dog that bit someone first accepted all responsibility and agreed to pay for my client’s medical bills, only to deny at a later date that their dog had bitten the person. Reporting a dog bite immediately to the proper authorities can help safeguard a victim against this by allowing them to investigate and document the event while all the evidence is still fresh.
  3. Failing to take photographs of your injuries. It is very difficult to prove the severity of a dog bite to an insurance adjuster or jury once the initial wound has healed and left little to no scarring. Most dog bites are very graphic and photographs of the initial injuries can establish the severity of the injury and the pain that the individual must have gone through during the attack. Taking photographs immediately and during the healing process will document your injuries, help your attorney prove your pain and suffering and assist you in receiving a full and fair settlement of your claim.
  4. Giving a recorded statement or signing insurance company forms. Insurance adjusters are trained professionals who are paid to save their insurance companies money. In taking a recorded statement from you, adjusters are looking to establish reasons to deny your claim or minimize your loss. A trained professional can ask questions in such a way as to elicit answers that can minimize your claim by proving you are held to an assumption of risk or comparative negligence. This is why I often advise dog bite victims to never talk to the dog owner’s insurance company without consulting an attorney first.
  5. Attempting to settle your claim without legal help. An insurance industry study found that individuals who have the assistance of legal counsel (on average) settle their claims for amounts 3 ½ times higher than those received from individuals who did not have the assistance of experienced legal counsel. Insurance companies frequently pressure individuals into settling their claims quickly before the full magnitude of any injuries or scarring has developed. Infections, scarring and the cost of scar revision surgery are just a few of the complications and costs that can develop with time. If you accept a quick settlement from an insurance company and a sign a release, you will foreclose all possibility of additional compensation if it turns out that your injuries are more severe than they initially appear. Also, if you appear too eager to settle your claim, an insurance adjuster may make you a “low ball” settlement offer (one that does not fully justify the extent of your injuries and costs of pain and suffering). Insurance companies will use your need for money as a tool to minimize the amount of your settlement. Therefore, do not appear too eager to settle and always consult an experienced personal injury attorney.
  6. Not being absolutely honest with the authorities and your doctors. In every personal injury claim, including those made by dog bite victims, the credibility of the injured person is vital. The tool used most often by an insurance adjuster to minimize a victim’s claim is to turn the spotlight on the victim’s conduct instead of that of the dog owner. So, make sure that you honestly report the details of the attack to the legal authorities. In addition, everything that you tell your doctor will be documented in medical records. Failing to tell doctors crucial facts is just as damaging as over exaggerating the extent of your injuries. Therefore, it is crucial for you to be both honest and thorough in relaying all events and injuries to the legal authorities and your doctors. Even minor exaggerations or incomplete versions of how the dog bite occurred can cause major problems in getting a full and fair settlement of your claim.
  7. Failing to hire a lawyer who specializes in personal injury claims. If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog and sustained medical bills, lost wages, scarring or other permanent injuries as a result, it is in your best interest to hire an experienced dog bite attorney. Insurance companies use trained adjusters who perfect ways of finding any possible reason to deny your claim or minimize its value. Many adjusters have been with insurance companies for years and have gone through extensive training and handled hundreds, if not thousands, of insurance claims. They are well-versed in the law and have access to their own attorneys and experts. It is not uncommon for adjusters to misstate the law in order to discourage a victim from bringing a claim or to minimize the value of their settlement. To combat this, an experienced personal injury lawyer has the training and knowledge to help you get a full and fair settlement of your dog bite claim.

If you or someone you know has been bitten by a dog and received injuries from the attack, please contact the Daytona Beach Personal Injury Attorneys at Rue & Ziffra. All of our clients’ claims are handled directly by practiced attorneys who know the particulars of a dog bite injury case.

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.

Dog Bites: Seven Mistakes Not to Make
Written by: Thomas E. Caldwell, Esq.
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Dog Bite Injuries: A Warning to Dog Owners

Unanticipated Liability

Terms that come to mind when thinking about your dog often include “companion,” “security guard” and “man’s best friend.” In addition to these descriptions, if you are not a careful owner, your dog can also be a source of unanticipated liability. This liability can quickly arise if your dog bites another person, as dog bites can cause serious injuries and health risks, and Florida has adopted stringent laws to protect the public.

Florida statutes pertaining to dog bites impose strict liability on a dog owner whose dog bites another person. The statute clarifies thatliability will be imposed on the dog owner regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness. Even if the victim of the dog bite was partially at fault for the incident, such as by teasing your dog, you as the dog owner will still find it difficult to completely avoid liability for the actions of your pet.

Ways to Protect Yourself

Provide a Warning

One step you can take to protect yourself from dog bite liability, as set out in the above-mentioned statute, is to provide a warning to people entering your property. Displaying an easily readable sign that includes the words “Bad Dog” can, in many cases, preclude a dog owner from liability for a dog bite by putting guests on notice of the presence of a dog. While this will not protect you if you are in a public place with your pet, it can easily serve as a first line of protection within your home or on your property.

Invest in Homeowner’s Insurance

In addition to displaying a “Bad Dog” sign, another means of protection from being liable for dog bite injuries to another person is to invest in a homeowner’s insurance policy. Homeowner’s insurance can provide liability coverage for accidents or injuries that occur on your property. Be sure you are careful in reviewing your policy, though, because there are several ways you might still be exposed to liability risks.

Watch for Policy Exclusions

Often, homeowner’s policies contain a variety of exclusions that result in certain injuries not being covered. One such example is a dog bite exclusion. While the policy may generally cover accidents that occur on your property, as the name implies, a dog bite exclusion would operate to preclude coverage for injuries that come about as a result of a dog bite. A dog bite exclusion can be a general exclusion, such that every injury sustained as a result of a dog bite is excluded, or it can single out a particular breed of dog that the insurance company identifies as more likely to be the source of a dog bite injury. Either way, if your policy contains such an exclusion, you are not as safe as you might think.

Renter Liability

But what if you do not own a home? What if you rent a house or an apartment? Landlords are generally not liable for injuries caused by a dog owned by a tenant; Florida law only imposes strict liability on the actual owner of the dog. While a renter or tenant would not ordinarily have a homeowners policy, he or she should consider a renters policy, and again be sure to read the policy thoroughly to know exactly what is and is not covered.

A final note for landlords, however. While Florida law imposes strict liability for a dog bite only on a dog owner, there could still be a common law liability claim made against a landlord. If a dog bite victim is able to show that the landlord knew of a dogs presence on the premises and knew the dog had a propensity to bite people (a factor that is not necessary to find the dog owner liable), a dog bite victim could then have another potential source of recovery.

If you have been the victim of a dog bite, or if you are a dog owner concerned about your level of protection from dog bite liability, you can receive more information from the Rue & Ziffra website or 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.

Dog Bite Injuries: A Warning to Dog Owners
Written by: Luis R. Gracia, Esq.
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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.

Non-Owners May be Liable for a Dog Bite Incident
Written by: Allan L. Ziffra, Esq.
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Do You Know a Dangerous Dog?

It goes without saying that dog owners should always take steps to properly care for their pets. They should also take steps to ensure that they are not a potential harm to the public. As we all know, however, accidents can happen. If your dog is involved in an incident where a person is bitten, and the incident is reported, it is possible that your dog will (from that point forward) be deemed a “dangerous dog” under the Florida Statutes. This designation will have several impacts upon both your dog and upon you as the dog owner.

What is a Dangerous Dog?

A “dangerous dog,” as defined in §767.11, Florida Statutes, is one that has aggressively bitten, attacked, or endangered or has inflicted severe injury on a human being on public or private property; has more than once severely injured or killed a domestic animal while off the owner’s property; or has been used primarily or in part for the purposes of dog fighting. Further, even an instance of your dog chasing or approaching a person upon the streets, sidewalks or any public grounds in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack without provocation can be enough for your dog to be deemed “dangerous.”

What Happens if My Dog is Deemed “Dangerous”?

If your dog bites someone, or is accused of one of the other wrongs identified in the above-mentioned statute, an animal control authority will likely investigate the matter and could determine your dog is in fact a dangerous dog. If this happens, the dog could be destroyed, or, in the alternative, you as the owner will have to take certain steps to ensure similar bad acts are not repeated by your “dangerous dog.”

Steps the owner may have to take

Register the dog as dangerous

First, the owner must obtain a certificate of registration for the dangerous dog from animal control. To get this registration, the owner will have to provide proof of vaccinations, evidence that the dog will be kept in a proper enclosure displayed with a visible “dangerous dog” sign and evidence that the dog has been tattooed or has an electronic implant for permanent identification.

Keep the dog in a proper enclosure

While on the owner’s property, the dangerous dog must be securely confined indoors or in a securely enclosed and locked pen or structure. This structure must be suitable to prevent the entry of young children and designed to prevent the animal from escaping. The pen or structure must have secure sides as well as a secure top to prevent the dog from escaping over, under or through it.

Take note that this requirement applies to the actual “owners” of a dangerous dog. The statute defines owner as any person possessing, harboring, keeping or having control or custody of the animal, or the parent of such person if he or she is younger than 18 years old. If a friend or relative asks you to care for their dog, make sure you know if it has been deemed as dangerous and if whether or not you are required to keep the dog in a proper enclosure as defined in the statute. Failing to do so could expose you to substantial liability risks if there were another incident involving the dangerous dog.

Use proper restraints when walking or moving the dog

If a dangerous dog is taken out of its proper enclosure, the dog must generally be muzzled and on a chain or leash at all times.

Notify the authorities immediately if the dog escapes

The owner must notify animal control authorities immediately if the dangerous dog escapes its enclosure, if it bites someone again, if there is a change in ownership of the dog or if it dies.

Consequences of Non-Compliance

It is important to be aware that owners who do not comply with the requirements relating to dangerous dogs can face substantial fines and even jail time. Additionally, if someone is injured by a dog known to be dangerous and there is evidence of the owner not taking the steps required by statute, the dog bite victim could make a claim for punitive damages.

If you have been the victim of an attack from a dangerous dog, report the incident to local authorities, seek treatment for your injuries and know that you can always call on an attorney for legal help. The personal injury attorneys at Rue & Ziffra have handled dog bite cases and can help you learn more about your rights.

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.

An Attorney Can Help When a Dangerous Dog Bites
Written by: Thomas E. Caldwell, Esq.
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