The Supreme Court of the state of Vermont recently released a decision affirming a lower court’s ruling that the owner of a piece of property would not be held legally responsible for injuries that were caused in an auto accident after a horse escaped from the owner’s property and was hit by a driver. The plaintiff in the case of Deveneau v. Weilt was injured one night after he was unable to avoid a collision with the animal on a road adjacent to the property from which the horse had escaped. The plaintiff filed a negligence lawsuit against both the owner of the property and the owner of the horse, who was a tenant of the property owner, and sought damages to compensate him for his injuries and other costs that were incurred in the accident.
The Horse Owner’s Agreement with the Property Owner to Pasture the Horses
The agreement between the property owner and the tenant concerning the pasturing of horses on the land was an important factor in the court’s decision in this case. According to the Court’s written ruling, the property owner agreed to allow the tenant to pasture two horses on the rented land “on the condition that [the tenant] take responsibility for all care of the horses and maintain a fence to keep them enclosed.” The tenant constructed a temporary electric fence to keep the horses enclosed, which was electrified through solar power, but the owner had no knowledge of the design or construction of the fence. Although the functionality of the fence was not a controlling factor in the court’s decision regarding the landowner’s liability, it had not been determined if the fence was electrified at the time of the collision.
The Court’s Ruling on the Duty of the Landowner to Prevent Horses from Escaping
The Vermont Supreme Court agreed with the lower court’s ruling that under the specific circumstances of this case, the property owner did not have a duty to prevent the horse from escaping, and he could not be held responsible for the accident that ensued after the horse escaped. Applying a ruling from a previous case with similar facts, the court held that a landowner should not be held responsible for an unforeseeable animal escape, absent some involvement in the ownership, management, or control of the horse. Finding that the landowner had no reason to foresee a risk of escape and never rode or used the horse, the court ruled that the landowner owed no duty to the plaintiff, and it dismissed the case against him.
The Duties of Animal Owners and Landowners Under Florida Law
The general rule concerning a defendant’s liability for injuries or damage caused by an escaped animal in Florida is based on similar common law principles to those that decided the case of Deveneau v. Weilt. If an escaped animal causes a Florida car accident, the owner of the animal may be held accountable for negligence because they exercise control over the animal. A landowner could also be held accountable for damages if he or she should have foreseen the risk of an escape, or exercised some form of control or ownership over the animal.
Specific Florida Laws Addressing Dog Attacks
The Florida legislature has added additional protections for victims of dog attacks. Although property owners are subject to the common law rules of liability for a dog attack that occurs on their land, the owners of the animals themselves are subject to stricter requirements that allow victims easier recovery in the event of an attack. Florida Statute 767.04, known as the “Dog Bite Statute,” provides that a dog owner is liable for damages suffered by anyone bitten while that person is in a public place or lawfully in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog. This remedy requires no showing of negligence on the part of the dog owner, and it is awarded in addition to any damages that may be awarded based on the dog owner’s negligence. There are restrictions and exceptions to this rule, and any victim of a South Florida animal attack should contact a qualified Miami injury attorney with questions about their case.
Are you a Victim of Negligence?
If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in an accident or attack involving an escaped or vicious animal, you could be entitled to damages from the animal’s owner or the landowner. An aggressive Miami personal injury attorney can advise you of your rights under Florida law and help you seek compensation from all responsible parties. The skilled South Florida injury attorneys at Friedman, Rodman & Frank are highly qualified, and we take pride in vigorously fighting for all of the damages and remedies to which our clients may be entitled. Our dedicated and experienced Miami injury lawyers can help you seek the compensation that you deserve. At Friedman, Rodman & Frank, we represent clients in Miami and throughout South Florida in most personal injury and wrongful death cases, including car accident and animal attack cases. If you or a loved one have been injured, contact us toll-free at 877-448-8585 or via our online contact form. Se habla Español / Nou Parlé Creole.
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