Florida law regarding dog bites has a long and storied history. Today we
have a modern, streamlined version that is easy to apply, but that was
not always the case. Prior to Florida's legislature passing
Florida Statutes 767.04, liability for dog bites was determined under common law principles. Below
is a summary of a case that discusses past Florida dog bite rules and
the transition into a legislatively created dog bite liability system.
Carroll v. Moxley, 241 So.2d 681 (1970)
The facts of this
case could easily be taken from a daytime television miniseries. According
to the opinion, Mrs. Carroll was at the hardware store owned by her mother,
Mrs. Moxley. The daughter was there to do some shopping and to deliver
sandwiches. It sounds quaint enough, but that is when the problems started.
What should have been a quiet store tripped turned vicious.
The store's owner, Mrs. Moxley, owned a German Shepherd dog that the
daughter knew had bitten people before. When the daughter went to deliver
the sandwiches, the dog lunged at her, biting her on the face and causing
terrible injuries. In the area of the store where she was bitten there
was a sign that said "Beware of Dog" and "Keep Out."
After she was bit and suffered the injuries she did, the daughter sued
the mother and her insurance company to recover for her injuries.
The Court's Decision on the Case
At trial the trial court judge dismissed the case because of Florida Statute
767.04 which relieved dog owners from liability if the owner placed a
warning sign for victims to see. But the Florida Supreme Court disagreed
with that decision for several reasons. Primary among those reasons was
the fact that there was a dispute that a jury should decide, rather than
a judge. At the time, the statute on the books required that the "bad
dog" sign be prominently placed and easily readable. And it was the
job of a jury to determine whether the sign in this case was placed and
read in such a way as to give the daughter sufficient warning about the
dog. As a result, the court sent the case back to the court to be tried
and decided by a jury.
Today's Dog Bite Laws
Florida's dog bite laws have changed since the
Moxley decision in the 1970s. There is still a statute that shields dog owners
from liability if they place a readable sign of bad dog on their property.
But that shield does not extend if the dog's owner is negligent. Additionally,
the statute today adds that it is an addition to the common law and other
statute law, and does not replace it. And within that law is language
that holds dog owners responsible for the injuries their dogs inflict
as long as the victim is lawfully at a private or public place.
Florida's dog bite laws offer a remedy for victims, and victims have
a right to recover for their injuries. To do so, it is important to contact
and use the services of a qualified dog bite attorney. In the Panama City
area The Pittman Firm is prepared to help you today.