Having a dog is a big responsibility. Dogs have a lot of needs in terms of healthcare, exercise and even mental stimulation. Millions of households in the United States own a dog as a pet and Florida is no exception. Unfortunately, Florida dog owners face a unique problems. According to statistics, Florida is the state with the highest occurrence of dog bites. Owning a dog is never as difficult as when you’re dealing with a dog bite. Dog bites often result in court cases. Ultimately, the pet is often ordered to be put down, which is a substantial loss for the bereaved owner.
While dog bite liability insurance might not change court rulings, knowing that the financial liability of a dog bite won’t rest on your shoulders will be a sigh of relief in an otherwise very difficult time. So, here’s what you need to know about dog bite liability in Florida, as well as how to know if you’re covered in case of an incident.
Florida Has a High Occurrence of Dog Bites
Between all the wonderful things about the sunshine state, there are also negative things. According to the Insurance Information Institute, Florida ranks among the top 10 highest for incidents of dog bites. In fact, the only state with a higher number of annual dog bites is California.
The estimated population of California is 39 million, whereas Florida’s population is almost half of that at approximately 21 million. In 2018, there were 2166 cases of reported dog bites – or 1 incident for every 18,005 residents. Florida had 1281 reported cases of dog bites for 2018 – which translates to 1 for every 16,393 residents. When reported dog bites are viewed in this way, Florida arguably has the higher incidence of dog bites than California.
There are various incidents of dog attacks in Florida circulating in the news. One of the most recent, shocking incidents, a 2-year-old boy was mauled to death by dogs near Gainesville, FL. The dogs who attacked the boy were family pets. In an attempt to save the boy, his grandmother also got seriously injured.
In a separate incident in Brooksville, FL, an elderly woman was hospitalized after being attacked by 3 dogs. The owner of the dogs, who sincerely apologized for the incident, said he never thought his dogs would act out in such a way.
These situations often bring on a lot of heartache and regret for both the victims and dog owners. Sometimes dogs act unpredictably, so it isn’t always possible to prevent dog bites.
Florida Dog Bite Liability Laws
Florida has a special dog bite statute, FLSA 767.04, which states that owners are liable for dog bites under the following terms:
- The dog bites another person and/or
- The bite occurs on public property, or private property when victim was lawfully on the premises.
Florida is a “strict liability” state in terms of dog bites. This means that dog owners will normally be held accountable if an incident occurs, even if there was no reason to suspect that the animal would bite a person.
There’s only one real exception to Florida’s strict liability dog bite laws. If the dog owner can prove that the bite victim was trespassing, the dog owner won’t be held liable for any damages.
Florida also has a comparative negligence rule concerning dog bites. Under the rule, the owner’s liability can be reduced if the bite victim was at least partially responsible for the incident. If, for instance, a dog retaliates by biting a person after the person taunted or injured a him (regardless if injuring the animal was intentional or not), the owner might not be held fully liable. If the court decides that a negligent person carries 50% of the responsibility, the owner will only be liable for the remaining 50% of the damages.
While there are at least some laws protecting dog owners, there’s still a good chance that dog owners in Florida will be help accountable for more than half of the liability in a dog bite or attack.
Will Homeowners Insurance Cover Dog Bite Liability in Florida?
According to 2018 statistics by the Insurance Information Institute, the average dog bite in America costs approximately $39,000. This money is usually to cover the medical costs of the victim, but often owners also need to pay restitution.
Although $39,000 is understandable, given the rising cost of healthcare, it’s still a hefty amount to pay from your pocket! Most homeowners are unable to afford such a large sum of money if an incident occurs.
If you’re covered for dog bite liability, your homeowners insurance should pay out for dog bite liability in certain circumstances. However, your home insurance provider will only pay out for bites if the incident occurs on your property. Your insurance won’t cover a dog bite if your dog attacks someone while you’re out on a walk.
Not all homeowners insurance policies include dog bite liability insurance, so if you’re unsure if your current home insurance cover dog bites, it’s best to contact your insurance provider and inquire about it. You might need to take out additional cover to get dog bite liability cover.
It’s common for insurance providers to provide a maximum coverage of $100,000-$300,000 to cover expenses due to dog bites. This money can be spent on legal expenses, covering the victim’s medical bills and might also payout restitution if it’s required by the court. Should expenses exceed the amount a homeowner is covered for, any amount over-and-above the policy will have to be paid by the homeowner themselves.
Double Check Your Dog Bite Liability Cover!
Insurance providers have different policies regarding dog bite liability cover. Some insurance providers might penalize certain breeds, or worse yet, they may not cover them at all.
Some insurance providers also require dog owners to train and socialize their pets. To qualify for a claim, you’ll need to prove that your dog was trained well before the incident. Insurance providers might also require a full history on the dog to find out if the dog has ever been aggressive in the past.
If your homeowners has policies regarding dog breed, training and history, you risk carrying full liability in the case of an incident. Always double, and even triple check your cover and claim policies.
How to Prevent Dogs from Biting?
Some dogs have a history of being aggressive, while others bite with no warning. Because of Florida’s strict liability regarding dog bites, the history of a dog will be of little importance if he bites someone.
As with tragedy, it’s always better to enforce preventative measures to avoid dog bites rather than to manage the liability after an incident. There are a few steps owners can take that will reduce the chance of their pet biting someone. While preventative measures can never be 100% foolproof, responsible dog owners are likely to suffer less liability if an incident occurs even despite their caution.
Here are some things you can do to reduce the chance of your dog biting someone:
- Make sure that dogs are trained well from a young age and reinforce training throughout the dog’s life.
- If an older dog has not been trained yet, start training the dog as soon as possible.
- Make sure your dog is socialized well with both people and animals. Often expose your dog to new kinds of people (like children and elderly persons) in calm settings where the dog feels relaxed.
- See to it that your dog often experiences new things and knows how to cope with unknown environments and situations.
- Never leave your dog unsupervised with a young child.
- Teach children how to interact and play with animals. Children should know to refrain from doing things that can hurt dogs, such as pulling ears. Also teach children how to read the animal’s body language to see when he/she is annoyed and doesn’t want to play. Any children that visit your house, regardless of whether they’re your own, should learn about how to treat animals.
- Always keep dogs in a fenced area on your own property and on a leash when you go out.
- If your dog tends to be fearful or anxious, warn people not to approach it. In some situations, it can also be best to use a muzzle whenever you go out with your animal, or if there are guests at your home.
There are almost an endless variety of situations where dogs can be provoked to bite. A defensive mother dog might bite to protect her puppies. For this reason, owners should always practice caution around dogs with puppies. Never allow strangers near your dog’s puppies without familiarizing your dog with the new person.
Dogs that have been previously abused might be more fearful, which may cause them to snap at people more easily. If you adopted a dog that was previously abused, it’s important to build a relationship of trust with the dog and teach him/her that they can trust people.
With a combination of proper training and good insurance cover, you’ll be minimizing the risk of an incident while also assuring you’re adequately covered if something does happen.