The pandemic compelled many Floridians to stay closer to home in the last year, prompting many to turn to four-legged companions for comfort. In 2020, there was an unprecedented number of people in Southwest Florida who fostered or adopted a pet, according to The News-Press. Undoubtedly, pets are a salve against isolation and anxiousness. However, there has been one unfortunate unintended side effect: A surge in Florida dog bite injuries.
In an analysis published by the Journal of Pediatrics, physicians at some children’s hospitals reported a three-fold increase in the rates of visits to pediatric emergency departments because of dog bites. Rates of dog bite injuries in the spring were more than double the summer rates, when these types of injuries are typically most common. Some cities, like Minneapolis, ordered all dogs to be leashed after noting a sharp uptick in dog bites there.
As our Fort Myers injury lawyers understand, families with kids and dogs have endured some unique challenges over the last year. Kids were staying home, common outlets like school, sports and playdates were sidelined, and working caregivers may not have had the capacity to supervise every second of child-animal interactions. This can increase the potential for dog bites.
Beyond that, some new dog owners may have found themselves unprepared for the demands of a new pet – including training and socialization.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports more than 4.7 million people annually are bitten by dogs, causing more than 800,000 injuries that require emergency medical care. More than half of these incidents happen on the dog owner’s property. According to the Insurance Information Institute, these account for about one-third of the total number of homeowner insurance liability claims filed each year.
Although we do not yet know whether homeowner insurance claims for Florida dog bite injuries are up year-over-year since the pandemic, it is probably safe to assume there has been an increase. Who pays for that when injuries are serious?
Liability for Florida Dog Bite Injuries
Dog owners are strictly liable for Florida dog bite injuries, per F.S. 767.04. That means it does not matter if the dog ever bit anyone before or the owner was aware of its propensity to be vicious. The owner of a dog who bites someone will be held legally responsible for covering the cost of those damages so long as the bite occurred while the victim was in a public place or lawfully in a private place – including the dog owner’s home.
The law says that if the victim was partially negligent for the bite (i.e., if they instigated the dog somehow), they may be found comparatively negligent, which could proportionately reduce their damages.
The exception to this would be if the owner prominently displayed an easily readable sign that includes the words “Bad Dog,” and the owner was not otherwise negligent. However, if the victim is under 6, the owner is likely to be held strictly liable regardless.
Dog owners are generally not liable to trespassers who are bitten by a dog.
Most homeowners and renters insurance policies cover dog bite liability, somewhere between $100,000 and $300,000 in coverage. If claims exceed that limit, the owner would personally be legally responsible to cover the remainder of damages, unless he/she has an umbrella liability policy that protects other assets. Umbrella policies typically run somewhere between $1 million and $10 million in coverage.
Prevent Dog Bites
Our Fort Myers dog bite injury attorneys will work to help you secure compensation if someone else’s dog bites you or a loved one, but obviously, it is better if a serious bite can be prevented in the first place. The American Veterinary Medical Association offers excellent dog bite prevention tips.
If you are injured in Fort Myers, Naples or Key West, contact our injury attorneys at Garvin Injury Law at 800.977.7017 for a free initial consultation.
Pandemic Unleashes ‘Startling’ Rise in Dog Bites, Sept. 9, 2020, By Serena McNiff, HealthDay
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6 Factors Impacting Your Fort Myers Personal Injury Lawsuit Timeline, Sept. 30, 2020, Fort Myers Injury Lawyer Blog