Breaking Down a Dog Bite Case
The number of dog bite settlements, as well as the average settlement amount, have increased significantly in recent years. A better understanding of dog bite injuries is responsible for both increases. Many diagnosing doctors, mostly emergency room physicians, are more familiar with the emotional and physical wounds these attacks cause. Furthermore, after holding steady during the Great Recession, medical bill inflation is on the rise again.
Despite the serious nature of dog bite injuries, most insurance companies steadfastly fight these claims, mostly because so much money is at stake. A good Tampa dog bite attorney levels the playing field. This partnership is the best way, and usually the only way, to obtain compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Dog Bite Injuries
Animal attack injuries usually begin with the knockdown. If a large dog leaps at a vulnerable victim, the victim often sustains wounds like head injuries and broken bones.
Unfortunately, the attack is just beginning at this point. When dogs bite, their teeth usually cause severe tearing lacerations as well as deep puncture wounds. The lacerations often require specialized treatment at designated trauma wards. The puncture wounds usually pierce internal organs and cause severe bleeding.
These attacks usually cause psychological wounds as well. For example, many child victims suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-type symptoms. These effects, which include flashbacks, hypervigilance, and nightmares, make it almost impossible to function at school or home.
Furthermore, dog bites have very high infection rates. Sometimes, an attorney must file a separate claim to obtain compensation for infection-related injuries.
Your Claim for Damages
Some states have pro-victim laws which make it easy to obtain compensation. Other states have pro-owner laws which make this task almost impossible. Florida has a combination of both. So, dog bite laws in the Sunshine State are quite complex.
- Strict Liability: Owners are strictly liable for bite injuries in Florida. Strict liability cases are usually easier to prove than negligence cases. Unfortunately, as discussed above, the bite itself often only causes a fraction of the victim’s injuries.
- Scienter (Knowledge): Owners are negligent and therefore liable for all bit-related damages if they knew the dog was potentially dangerous. Evidence in this area includes previous attacks against people and certain pre-bite behaviors, like aggressive barking and vicious growling.
- Negligence Per Se: Tampa and other Hillsborough County municipalities usually have strict animal restraint ordinances, link fence laws and leash laws. If the owner violated such a law, and that violation caused injury, the owner could be responsible for damages.
Generally, the homeowners’ insurance company is financially responsible for dog bite injuries, even if the attack did not occur on the owner’s property.
Possible Insurance Company Defenses
Provocation and the assumption of the risk doctrine are the most common defenses in Florida dog bite claims.
Provocation is a defense to strict liability claims. In this context, provocation is an intentional, physical act. People cannot unintentionally provoke dogs by making fast movements or loud noises. Additionally, provocation is almost synonymous with torture. This defense only applies if the victim inflicted so much pain on the animal that a violent response was justified.
Young children usually cannot provoke an animal as a matter of law. The provocation defense has some other limits as well.
Assumption of the risk is a negligence defense. It applies if the victim voluntarily assumed a known risk.
This defense usually involves a “Beware of Dog” or other warning sign. These signs make it easier to prove assumption of the risk, but they do not automatically protect owners. Insurance company lawyers must still prove, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the victim saw the sign, could read the sign, and could understand what the sign meant.
Work with a Diligent Lawyer
Dog bites often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury attorney in Tampa, contact Mark H. Wright, PLLC. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.