We love our dogs. Who else gets to sleep (and shed) on our bed and lick our faces? But, if you’re not careful, that same lovable dog could get you in trouble.
Everybody knows that a dog owner is responsible if their dog bites someone (especially a child). But what about Rover’s more innocent mistakes? Florida Statute Section 767.01 makes an owner “strictly liable” for any damage their dog inflicts on another person or animal.
Strict liability means that the dog owner can’t blame the dog!
Florida courts hold dog owners to this highest standard because they consider them the “insurer of the dog’s conduct.”[i] Dog owners are assumed to have knowledge regarding their dog’s “general” and “particular propensities,” and if either of those types of propensities “are of a nature likely to cause injury [an owner] must exercise reasonable care to guard against them and to prevent injuries which are reasonably to be anticipated from them.”[ii]
The only defense? That’s not my dog!
What Does This Mean for Dog Owners?
You may be liable to pay damages resulting from your dog’s actions that directly or indirectly cause an injury. Florida courts have held owners responsible in the following circumstances: when a dog ran into the street and hit the plaintiff’s car, resulting in the plaintiff losing control of the vehicle and colliding with a power line;[iii] when a dog chasing a Frisbee crashed into the plaintiff who was riding his bike;[iv] when a child tied a dog to a wagon and the dog, while pursuing another dog, ran over a different child;[v] and when a plaintiff injured herself while stumbling backwards as a reaction to a dog running toward her.[iv]
To avoid the “cone of shame” always remain in control of your dog while in public areas and ensure that your dog is secured when you’re at home. Dog owners should also be particularly diligent when they are aware of any events occurring near their property that could startle their dog and cause it to behave erratically.
[i] See e.g. Jones v. Utica Mut. Ins. Co., 563 So. 2d 1153, 1155 (Fla. 1985).
[ii] Loftin v. McCrainie, 47 So. 2d 298, 301 (Fla. 1950).
[iii] Allstate Ins. Co. v. Greenstein, 308 So. 2d 561 (Fla. 3rd Dist. Ct. App. 1975).
[iv] Wallace v. Strassel, 479 So. 2d 231 (Fla. 4th Dist. Ct. App. 1985).
[v] Jones, 563 So. 2d at 1153.
[vi] Cohen v. Wall, 576 So. 2d 945 (Fla. 2nd Dist. Ct. App. 1991).