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.
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.