Most Florida personal injury cases are brought under the legal theory of negligence. That is, a plaintiff must establish that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care that was violated, and this violation resulted in the plaintiff’s injuries. However, Florida dog bite cases are different in that they are analyzed under a strict liability framework.
Under a strict liability framework, courts do not assess the potential negligence of the defendant. In fact, it is irrelevant if a defendant was negligent. Instead, the plaintiff need only establish that the defendant owned the object or instrumentality that caused their injuries. In a dog bite case, this merely requires that the plaintiff establish ownership.
There is, however, a very specific defense to a Florida dog bite case. If a defendant dog owner can establish that there was a sign outside the enclosure where the dog was held, displaying the words “Bad Dog,” anyone injured by the dog cannot hold the owner liable. This exception, however, is quite narrow, as illustrated in a recent appellate decision.
The Facts of the Case
The plaintiff was a three-year volunteer at a local dog park. As a part of the process in getting approved as a volunteer, the plaintiff signed a release waiver indicating that she was aware of the risks involved in volunteering at the park and accepted those risks. In addition, outside the dog park was a sign warning visitors that they enter the park at their own risk.
One day, a dog belonging to the defendant was playing in the park when it ran into the plaintiff. The plaintiff fell to the ground and suffered a broken leg as a result of the collision. The plaintiff filed a personal injury lawsuit against the defendant dog owner.
The trial court dismissed the plaintiff’s case, however, finding that she was aware of the risks involved and decided to volunteer nonetheless. Thus, the court found that she had assumed the risk in volunteering and could not hold the defendant liable for her injuries. The plaintiff appealed.
On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the sign outside the dog park – and even her own acknowledgement of the risks – did not preclude her from establishing liability because the only defense under Florida’s strict liability statute was for there to be a sign displaying the words “Bad Dog.” The court agreed, holding that the statute was clear in the requirements necessary to establish the defense, and the sign posted outside the dog park did not contain the specific words required by the statute. Thus, the lower court erred in dismissing the plaintiff’s case.
The court did, however, note that the jury could take the plaintiff’s potential knowledge of the risks involved in volunteering at the dog park into account when determining if she was comparatively negligent.
Have You Been a Victim of a South Florida Dog Bite?
If you or a loved one has recently been bitten or attacked by a dog, you may be entitled to monetary compensation through a South Florida dog bite case. At the law firm of Friedman, Rodman & Frank, we represent South Florida victims in a wide range of personal injury claims, including dog bite cases. To learn more, call 877-448-8585 to schedule your free consultation with an attorney to discuss your case.
More Blog Posts:
Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress Claims in Florida, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published March 21, 2017.
Accident Victims Should Not Be Pressured to Accept Settlement Offers by Pushy Florida Insurance Adjusters, South Florida Personal Injury Lawyers Blog, published April 5, 2018.