In April, we discussed the terrible case of a young boy being mauled to death by two dogs in Callaway. An update to the story serves as an opportunity to remind our readers that dog bites are a very real danger. It is also a chance for our Panama City dog bite law firm to review the legal issues associated with dog bite cases and broader issues related to the distinction between the civil and criminal systems.
Late last week, per a report carried by WMBB, Circuit Judge James Fensom handed down a 10-year jail sentence to Edward Daniels Jr. The sentence resolves a defense motion and reaffirms the manslaughter conviction reached by a jury in August. In reaching that verdict, the jury found that Daniels had prior notice that his dogs, Fat Boy and MJ, were dangerous to humans.
On April 5 of this year, Fat Boy and MJ (a bulldog and pit bull, respectively) chased one boy through Daniels' Kelly Court neighborhood. That child got away, but the dogs later found 7-year-old Tyler Austin Jett playing in his own front yard. The dogs attacked and killed Tyler, puncturing the child's carotid artery before the boy's family could chase them away. Crucial to the criminal verdict, a mere 5 days prior the dogs escaped from Daniel's yard and threatened several neighbors, including several who confronted Daniels and told him to restrain the dogs. Later that day, Animal Control cited Daniels for the unrestrained and aggressive animals. Daniels had also been aware of prior successful escape attempts by the animals, but he made only limited efforts to fix his run-down fence.
Judge Fensom's verdict also includes 5 years of probation after the prison sentence and orders Daniels to pay more than $5,000 in restitution. Further, the probation includes a condition that Daniels may not own dogs or live in a home where dogs are present.
As noted in prior posts, Florida Statutes Section 767.04 holds owners strictly liable for dog bites. This is a civil law providing damages to the victim, regardless of whether there were prior warning signs that the dog might attack. However, the law does reduce liability if the victim's own negligence played a role in the attack (note: legally, children under six cannot commit contributory negligence) and evidence of prior violence may weigh against such a reduction.
We often note that the criminal system involves suits by the government looking to punish offenders and prevent violations of law, while the civil system involves disputes between private parties and works to compensate a wronged individual. Restitution, however, is a bit different and involves a payment ordered by a criminal court from a criminal to a victim. While a civil judgment will be reduced by the amount of the restitution, victims receiving restitution should still seek civil damages. Restitution will not include money for pain & suffering, awards for intentional infliction of emotional distress, or punitive damages, all of which a victim may still be eligible for in civil court.
The time after a tragedy is busy and confusing. Medical care should always be a top priority, but victims should seek legal counsel as soon as possible. While a criminal prosecutor's interests may overlap with a victim's concerns, they are not the same. In some cases, including many dog bite cases, the prosecutor may find there is no criminal liability despite the fact that civil claims (which are not a prosecutor's concern) exist. A civil lawyer will be dedicated to you and will focus on your legal rights, so you and your loved ones can focus on healing.
If you have been the victim of a dog bite or other injury, or have lost a loved one due to someone else's mistakes, call our civil plaintiff's law firm. An initial consultation is always free.