Fido Jekyll or Rufus Hyde? When Family Pets Attack

According to a 2013-2014 survey by the American Pet Products Association, 68 percent of U.S. households, or 83.3 million homes, own a pet. Moreover, nearly 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs alone each year and, of these injuries, approximately half are suffered by children. Children are a particularly vulnerable demographic as one in five dog bites result in injuries that require medical attention, such as reconstructive surgery. While many people cannot imagine a beloved family pet attacking guests or strangers, as statistics show, dog bites can and do occur, even when there is no prior history of violent outbursts.

Interactions Between Dogs and Children

While many dogs interact well with children, even friendly dogs can become aggressive if children behave in certain ways that trigger a defensive response. For example, a child may come too close when a dog is eating or chewing on a bone. Or, a child may grab food items from a dog or its surrounding areas. In other situations, young children may treat a dog like a toy and yank its tail or startle it while sleeping. Toddlers often do not understand that their actions may hurt a dog and cannot defend themselves if a dog reacts aggressively. Additionally, once a dog is provoked and begins to growl or lunge forward, children may yell loudly and begin to run away, which may trigger further predatory behavior.

To mitigate dangerous incidents between dogs and children, it is important to supervise all interactions, even if your dog is friendly and has had previous contact with children. Moreover, a dog owner has a responsibility to learn the warning signs for when a dog is becoming agitated or aggressive. Early indications of trouble include a dog baring his teeth or barking and growling at a child.

Liability for Dog Bites

Florida operates under the theory of strict liability for dog bites which means that an owner can be held accountable for her or his dog’s actions regardless of intent or fault. However, liability may be mitigated depending on the negligence of the person who is bitten. A dog owner is not liable except for injuries suffered by a person under the age of six if the owner has displayed in a prominent place on his or her premises a sign that is easily readable containing the words “Bad Dog.”

In some circumstances, individuals other than a dog’s owner can also be held liable for injuries caused by dog bites. A landlord may be held liable for damages caused by a tenant’s dog if the landlord is aware of a history of violence or attacks and if he or she fails to enforce “no dog” clauses in a rental agreement. This is a corollary of the “one bite rule” which allows victims to recover damages when a dog has a known history of biting or attempts to bite.

At The Pittman Firm, our attorneys have extensive experience handling dog bite cases and are ready to help you recover compensation for your injuries. Call us today for a free consultation on your case.

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