For many Floridians, dog ownership is a way of life. But when your dog bites someone, you may be on the hook for thousands of dollars in medical bills, even if you think you have insurance.
If you are a dog owner, or are thinking of getting a dog, make sure that you are protected in the event your pet ever injures another person.
Florida’s Legal Standards
Florida’s dog bite laws are based on a strict liability standard, meaning that the owner is responsible for a dog’s bites even if the dog has never bitten anyone in the past. Many other states have rules where a dog is allowed “one free bite” before an owner is legally responsible. However, Florida’s state statute says that an owner is liable for injuries caused by the dog, regardless of whether or not it had ever bitten anyone or been aggressive in the past.
Insurance May Not Cover Dog Bites
People who own dogs often have some type of insurance, whether it is homeowner’s insurance, renter’s insurance, or pet insurance. Before you assume that you are protected, review your policy closely—you may not actually be covered.
Most homeowner insurance companies used to cover dog bites which occurred on the property as a matter of course. In recent years, dog bites have made up nearly a third of all homeowners’ insurance claims, and the trend has been for companies to either include a provision which specifically denies coverage for dog bites, or refuses to cover certain breeds.
In general, most insurance companies have issues with potentially dangerous breeds like Pitbulls, Rottweilers, Akitas, German Shepherds, and Dobermans. If you own one of these breeds (or a dog mixed with these breeds), you need to be sure your insurance policy covers both dog bites and does not contain an exception for your breed.
Even pet insurance may not cover your dog bites. Some pet insurance policies may only cover health issues, and others may have disclosures hidden in fine print which restricts the breeds of dogs covered by the policy.
Finally, many insurance policies have their own “one free bite” rule, meaning that while the policy may cover damages from the first bite, your coverage could be dropped after the first bite, or your insurance company may add an exclusion which refuses to cover a second bite.
How You Can Protect Yourself
If you own a dog that may bite, there is one exception to Florida’s strict liability rules. If you post a “bad dog” or “beware of dog” sign on your property, a dog owner is usually not liable when people refuse to heed that warning. So long as the sign is visible, the owner didn’t encourage the dog to bite, and the person who was bitten is old enough to read the warning sign, your liability for any injuries may be limited.
In addition to posting a sign, make sure that any children in your home are always supervised around your pets, or to be safe, keep your dogs penned up when you have visitors.
Most importantly, double check your insurance policy for your coverage regarding dog bites. If you are not covered by insurance, you will likely be held personally responsible for paying the medical bills of any person injured by your dog. When the injury is serious, or the bite becomes infected, your financial responsibility for the medical bills could last for years or force you to file for bankruptcy.
Board Certified Personal Injury attorney Bryan Caulfield understands that even the best pet owners may be surprised when their dog bites. Bryan has represented many clients injured by a dog whose owners were completely unprepared when their dog attacked, and knows how important it can be to take the necessary precautions before a bite.
If you or your child was injured by a dog, you need experienced legal representation to help you get compensation for your injuries. If you are concerned about your rights, or are unsure if you should file a case against a dog owner, schedule a free consultation with Board Certified Personal Injury attorney Bryan Caulfield by calling (727) 460-1208. Let Bryan Caulfield help you get the justice you deserve after an injury.