Florida Senate Amends Dog Bite Law
Under chapter 767 of the Florida Statutes, there are strict penalties for damages caused by domestic dogs. In fact, the entire chapter is devoted solely to dogs and the potential threat they pose. Like many states, Florida has created a right of action when a dog injures someone or causes other forms of damages, such as economic losses. This can occur when a domestic dog attacks cattle and livestock. On March 8, the State Legislature passed significant amendments to chapter 767. Here are just a few key changes that will affect Floridians who are involved dog attacks.
Possible confiscation of a dangerous dog
Under current law, animal control is required to perform an investigation into all attacks by dogs. However, the law does say animal control “shall” investigate “if possible.” Therefore, the legislature makes it mandatory, provided it is practical and can be reasonably performed. It is hard to know how this language might be interpreted, as it seems to make investigation mandatory and discretionary at the same time. Nevertheless, it is clear from the amended statute that investigations are to be performed.
Currently, an owner whose dog is the subject of an ongoing investigation must wait for animal control to determine whether to classify the dog as “dangerous” or simply euthanized immediately. As one might imagine, this has raised a lot of concerns for dog owners. In fact, according to the Bill Summary, many trial courts found this to be unconstitutional, presumably because it deprives the owner of a property interest (the dog) without procedural due process. Under the current changes, dog owners would have an opportunity to appeal animal control’s decision prior to euthanasia. In other words, the dog owner can appeal to the local circuit court in order to advocate in favor of protecting the dog. Instead of 10 days, the new legislation extends the time for appeal to 30 days. Although the dog may be immediately confiscated, it may not be killed until the owner has lost the appeal.
No liability if victim involved in crime
The final point to note is how this bill affects victims. Under the existing law, an owner is guilty of a second-degree misdemeanor if he or she has prior knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensity and “demonstrates a reckless disregard” under the circumstances. There have, however, been a number of cases in Florida where a victim was engaged in some form of criminal conduct at the time of the attack. For instance, a dog may attack a burglar breaking into a business. In such situations, the owner of the dog would not be liable or guilty of any crime under the statute.
This particular section of the law poses an interesting dilemma, as the law does not define criminal activity or the severity that might be construed as nullifying liability. For instance, perhaps a person is walking home from a bar completely intoxicated when a dog attacks him. While the victim may be guilty of public intoxication, this is arguably not what the legislature intended when it granted immunity for owners of dangerous dogs that attack people without provocation.
Dog attack liability is an ever-changing area of law. When dogs attack, a skilled dog bite lawyer can help you recover compensation for your injuries. Painful injuries can last years; if you are injured by a dog attack in Florida, contact the Romero Law Firm for a free consultation today.