A Look Back on Florida Dog Bite Laws

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.

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