Fort Lauderdale Dog Bite Lawyers
A Fort Lauderdale man was hospitalized recently after he and his two dogs were attacked while out on a walk. The man was walking on his usual route in the area of Northeast 17th Court and Eighth Avenue when he spotted three dogs. He had previously seen the dogs in the area, but this time they were not on leashes. The three dogs charged the man, who bent to pick up his own dogs to shield them from harm. That was when the attack occurred. The man sustained injuries to his neck and was transferred to Broward Health Medical Center for treatment. All of the dogs involved in the incident were returned to their owners.
As horrifying as this scenario seems, it is far from uncommon in Fort Lauderdale or anywhere else. Over 800,000 Americans will require medical treatment for dog bites in any given year. Dogs are more likely to attack children ages five to nine, particularly boys, than people in any other age group. More than 70 percent of dog bites come from a dog that is known to the victim, and about 50 percent of dog bite victims report that the bite was unprovoked.
If you were bitten by a dog in Fort Lauderdale, you could be eligible to seek compensation from the dog’s owner for the expenses of your injury and the impacts it has had on your life. An experienced Fort Lauderdale dog bite lawyer from The Levin Firm can help you understand this legal process and your options. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.
Why Do Dogs Bite?
Dogs bite because:
- They’re in a stressful situation.
- They feel scared, threatened, or that someone is threatening their home or their owner.
- They have puppies that they’re trying to protect.
- They’re not feeling well.
- They were startled.
- During rough play, they may nip or bite.
Most dog bite cases involve dogs who are not spayed or neutered, and about 25 percent of all dog bites—inflicted by all different breeds—occur while the dog is chained. While many breeds have the reputation of viciousness or aggressiveness, in truth, any dog can bite if placed in the circumstances to do so. More than 30 different breeds are associated with dog bite fatalities.
What Injuries Can a Fort Lauderdale Dog Bite Inflict?
The most common area for a child to be injured by a dog is in the head, face, or neck area, which is often eye level with the animal. Dogs are most likely to bite adults on the face or an upper extremity such as an arm or hand. Eighty-one percent of dog bites do not require any medical treatment at all or only minor injuries that respond well to home care.
If you received a minor injury from a dog bite:
- Compress the injury with a clean towel to stop the bleeding.
- Keep the area where the injury occurred elevated, if possible.
- Thoroughly wash the dog bite with soap and water.
- Apply antibiotic ointment to the clean wound as soon as possible to prevent infection and wrap it loosely with a sterile bandage.
In nearly 20 percent of dog bite cases, an individual suffers a wound deep enough to require medical attention. Medical treatment for a dog bite often involves thoroughly cleaning the area, stopping the bleeding, and closing the wound unless there is a high risk of infection that warrants leaving it open. Often, the patient will be given antibiotics to prevent infection and a tetanus shot if they have not received one in the last five years.
Serious dog bite injuries can result in the loss of eyes, fingers, or nose, and can also cause extensive scarring that will need to be surgically repaired. Dog bites to the neck area can result in life-threatening blood loss. Broken bones, sprains, bruises, and abrasions can also be experienced if the bite occurred during an attack.
The Serious Complications From Fort Lauderdale Dog Bites
The most serious complications arising from dog bites involve the risk of infection. Around 50 percent of dog bites that break the skin will introduce bacteria from the dog’s saliva into the wound.
The more serious infections that can result from a dog bite include:
- Capnocytophaga: This infection presents with blistering around the wound, redness, swelling, pain, oozing, fever, vomiting, headaches, and joint pain. The symptoms appear within 14 days after the bite and those who are at high risk for this type of infection include those who use alcohol excessively, those who do not have a spleen, those who have an underlying immune system condition, and those who are taking medication that can damage cells, such as chemotherapy. If not treated, this infection can result in kidney failure, heart attack, or gangrene.
- Sepsis: This is an infection that enters the bloodstream and spreads throughout the body. Signs of sepsis include a high or low body temperature, confusion, extreme sleepiness in the daytime, and severe pain or discomfort. Sepsis is often fatal if not treated promptly. Treatment includes IV fluids and antibiotics.
- Rabies: A person can become infected with rabies if a dog who has the disease bites them. The initial symptoms of rabies include a headache, fever, or other flu-like symptoms, weakness, and itching or a pricking feeling in the area of the bite. Rabies can be fatal if left untreated. If an individual has reason to believe that the dog who bit him or her was infected with rabies, a post-exposure rabies vaccination can be given.
- Tetanus: Dog bites can also release the bacteria that causes tetanus into the body. The symptoms of tetanus include cramping of the jaw, muscle spasms that generally appear in the stomach, difficulty swallowing, and muscle stiffness. If you begin showing signs of tetanus, seek medical attention immediately. Treatment often consists of antibiotics as well as a tetanus vaccine.
In addition to the conditions listed above, other infections can hamper your healing from a dog bite injury. Infections are more likely in areas of the body that are commonly subjected to bacteria even without a bite, such as on the hands or the feet.
Even if your initial injury did not require medical care, you should see your doctor as soon as possible if you experience any of these signs of infection:
- A wound that is red, swollen, and painful.
- A wound that feels warm to the touch.
- A deep wound, if you have not had a tetanus shot in the past five years.
Seeking Compensation After a Fort Lauderdale Dog Bite
If you a dog bites you in Fort Lauderdale, you can seek compensation from the dog owner through a dog bite injury lawsuit. This is a legal claim filed in civil court that seeks to prove who is liable for the accident that caused your injury and show what expenses and impacts you have incurred as a result of the injury.
Fort Lauderdale’s Dog Bite Laws
Most states in the U.S. employ either strict liability in dog bite cases (as in Florida), or follow the “one bite rule.”
- Strict liability means that the dog owner is liable for injuries caused to another person by their dog while the injured person is on or in a public place or is lawfully in a private place, including the home of the dog owner, regardless of whether they knew their dog had the propensity to be vicious and even if the dog had never acted aggressively before.
- One bite rule means that the dog owner is only liable if he or she knew or had reason to know that the dog was capable of behaving aggressively. Essentially, in states that follow the one-bite rule, the dog’s owners are only liable after the dog bites a person for the second or subsequent time because the dog had already shown that it was capable of aggressive behavior with the first bite.
In strict liability cases, you do not need to prove that the dog’s owner was negligent, only that he or she owned the dog that bit you. However, you want your lawyer to prepare for the at-fault party’s insurance provider to defend themselves.
Common defenses in dog bite cases include:
- You were trespassing on the dog owner’s property when the bite occurred.
- You were partially responsible for the dog bite due to your own negligence. In Fort Lauderdale, if an individual is partially responsible for the accident that caused their injuries, they can still file a claim against other liable parties. However, the amount of their settlement or award will be reduced to account for their responsibility.
- The owner posted a “bad dog” or similar warning sign in an obvious location near the dog’s pen and you should have seen the sign and known to avoid the area. It should be noted that the dog owner is still liable for damages after having placed a warning sign about the dog in a prominent location if the person who was bitten is under six years old.
Filing a Fort Lauderdale Dog Bite Injury Lawsuit
Dog bite injury lawsuits in Fort Lauderdale must be filed within four years of the date on which the accident took place. Some circumstances can extend this statute of limitations, also referred to as “tolled,” such as cases where the claimant is a child when the accident took place and is unable to file a legal claim. In these cases, the statute of limitations could be tolled until four years after the child reaches the age of majority.
Florida allows the collection of both economic and non-economic damages in dog bite cases. Damages is a legal term for payments made in compensation for the harm that was caused. Economic damages are the costs of out-of-pocket expenses that you incurred as a result of the injury.
Common economic damages in dog bite injury cases include the costs of:
- Medical expenses, including treatment at the scene, ambulance transport, emergency department services, diagnostic testing, sutures, physician and surgical services, hospitalization, prescription medication, and physical therapy or rehabilitation.
- Lost income if you were too injured to work or had to miss work to attend medical appointments.
- Loss of future earning capacity if your dog bite injuries result in a disability and you are no longer able to work or to earn the same income as you did before the accident.
Non-economic damages are paid for the many impacts that an injury can have on your life.
Common non-economic impacts that are included in damage claims are:
- Physical pain and suffering.
- Emotional distress.
- Loss of enjoyment of life.
Frequently Asked Questions About Fort Lauderdale Dog Bite Cases
Roughly one out of every five dog bite incidents in the U.S. will cause an injury severe enough to require medical attention. Dog bites not only can result in serious injuries, but can also lead to severe—and even deadly—complications. Florida is second in the nation for the highest number of dog bites and the average cost of all dog bite claims, behind only California. In one year in Florida, 1,268 dog bite claims resulted in an average cost per claim of more than $53,000.
If you’ve been attacked by a dog in Fort Lauderdale, you likely have a lot of questions about your case and your ability to obtain compensation for the economic and emotional impacts of your injury. Here are the answers to some of the questions our dog bite clients in Fort Lauderdale most frequently ask.
How do I find out if the dog who bit me in Fort Lauderdale was vaccinated against rabies?
The only way to accurately test if an animal has rabies is to examine its brain after death. However, if the dog has been vaccinated against rabies, the owner should have proof of that vaccination through a certificate and a tag that should be affixed to its collar. Not all animals wear collars, not all dog owners place the dog’s rabies tag on the collar, and not all dogs have owners, which can make learning information about the dog who bit you that much more complicated.
If you know the animal who bit you, you can ask the owner. However, not all dog owners are honest about such things, particularly since they’re legally required to have their dog vaccinated if it is over four months old. In some cases, the dog will be impounded and observed for signs of the disease. If the dog does not show signs of rabies, it probably does not have the disease.
I was bitten by a Fort Lauderdale property owner’s dog while I was doing work at his or her house. Do I have a claim?
It depends on the circumstances of your case. If the dog was not penned up in an area where there was a prominently placed sign warning you of the risk of being bitten, and you were invited to the owner’s home to do the work, you likely can file a premises liability lawsuit. If the dog was penned and there was a warning sign in place, or the dog was in a location separate from where you had permission to work and you entered that area, then you likely are not eligible to file a claim.
A Fort Lauderdale police dog bit me. Can I sue the police department?
Again, it depends on the facts of the case. In most situations, working police dogs are exempt from dog bite laws as there is a certain amount of aggression that is expected in the line of work they do. However, if you were not the intended target of the police when the dog bit you or it bit you outside of the normal scope of its work, you could be eligible to file a claim against the department. Your attorney will let you know if you have a case after looking at all of the pertinent details.
What is the risk of dying from a Fort Lauderdale dog bite?
Deaths from dog bites seem more prevalent than they are because they almost always garner news coverage. In truth, they’re actually pretty rare. According to Canine Journal, you have a 1 in 112,400 chance of dying from a dog bite. However, as unlikely as it is, dying from a dog bite is possible. Dogs often strike the throat area when they bite, which can result in damage to the jugular that can result in death. Additionally, major arteries such as those in the groin or the wrist can be severed in a dog attack, resulting in fatal blood loss. Infections such as sepsis resulting from the bite can also result in death.
How long does it take to settle a Fort Lauderdale dog bite case?
Negotiating a settlement can take quite a bit of time. The vast majority of dog bite claims are paid out by the dog owner’s homeowners or renters insurance. Insurance companies generally try to keep claim payouts as small as possible. They will generally avoid making a fair settlement offer until it becomes apparent that the case is going to end up in court if they don’t.
One thing insurance companies like even less than paying out claims is paying for expensive litigation with uncertainty as to what the court will order them to pay on the claim. Often, the best settlement offer either happens just before the trial begins or even after the trial has begun but before a judgment has been ordered.
If my Fort Lauderdale dog bite injury gets infected, will the at-fault party be responsible for compensating me for treatment?
Yes. If the infection was a result of bacteria from the dog’s mouth entering an open wound that the dog caused, the owner of the dog will likely be on the hook to compensate for medical expenses not only to treat the injury, but also to treat the complications that accompany that injury.
Can Fort Lauderdale dog owners get an insurance policy to protect themselves from liability?
There is no policy specifically to cover the liability of dog bites. However, many homeowners and renters insurance policies will cover dog bite liability expenses up to the limit of the policy. Standard policy limits for this type of insurance usually range between $100,000 and $300,000. If the claim exceeds the limit of the policy, then the homeowner would be expected to cover the expenses over that amount.
Do dogs have to be on leashes in Fort Lauderdale?
Yes. According to Broward County’s animal ordinance, it is against the law for anyone to permit their dog to be “at large.” At large means that the dog is not confined or controlled. It must be under the direct physical control of someone through a leash, chain, cord, or fence. The ordinance also prohibits dog owners from chaining their dog so that it has access to public property or the property of another person.
I was bitten by my friend’s dog in Fort Lauderdale. Would it be wrong for me to file a dog bite injury claim against a friend?
It isn’t wrong to expect compensation for physical harm that cost you money and damaged your life. However, many people find the situation of pursuing compensation through a claim against a friend, neighbor, or colleague to be awkward. One point to remember, however, is that the source of the compensation you receive will likely be your friend’s homeowners or renters policy, not your friend. It’s not a bad idea to speak with an attorney before making any decisions.
Is there a difference between an aggressive dog and a dangerous dog in Fort Lauderdale?
In Broward County there is. Ordinance No. 2011-03 notes:
- A dangerous dog is one that has aggressively attacked a person on public or private property or has severely injured or killed a domesticated animal while off of its owner’s property, has been used for dogfighting, or has aggressively approached someone unprovoked.
- An aggressive dog is one that has severely injured or killed a domesticated animal while unprovoked and off its owner’s property.
How much is my Fort Lauderdale dog bite case worth?
In Florida, you are allowed to pursue the recovery of both economic damages and non-economic damages in dog bite injury cases. The term “damage” simply means payment for harm. Your economic damages are the actual out-of-pocket expenses that you have incurred as a result of your injury. Often, this category of damages includes expenses for medical treatment as well as lost wages. Non-economic damages refer to the impacts on your life that were caused by the injury. This category of damages includes impacts such as physical pain and suffering and emotional distress.
Are Fort Lauderdale dog owners required to be more cautious if children live near the dog?
Children have a natural curiosity and do not always understand the danger. Because of this, adults owe a special duty of care when children are around, in a lot of different circumstances including protecting them from dog bites. The term “duty of care” refers to the way that a reasonable person would act in a similar set of circumstances.
In Florida, individuals are strictly liable for injuries that are incurred if their dog bites someone, with several exceptions to this strict liability, including if they placed a prominent sign near the area where the dog is kept that warns people that the dog is vicious. However, this exception does not apply to children under the age of six who likely are unable to either read or fully comprehend the sign. This is a special duty of care.
Is there ever a Fort Lauderdale dog bite case where there is no duty of care owed?
Actually, yes. In Florida, premises liability law holds that the duty of care that a property owner owes to visitors depends on the type of visitor involved. If the visitor is at a commercial location as a customer or a private residence as a social guest, the property owner must exercise the duty of care to promptly repair hazardous features and to warn guests of their presence through a prominently placed sign. However, there is no duty of care owed to trespassers who are on the property without the owner’s knowledge or permission.
This is true in dog bite cases as well. If someone breaks into your home to burglarize it, for example, you do not owe that individual a duty of care to protect them from injuries caused by your dog.
What can a Fort Lauderdale dog bite lawyer do to help me?
If you were bitten by a dog, an experienced dog bite injury attorney can provide:
- A free consultation, which is time for you to obtain answers to questions you have about your specific case as well as to receive guidance from a legal professional on the process of obtaining compensation after a dog bite.
- A determination of the liable party and all insurance resources that can be accessed to provide your compensation.
- A valuation of your case based on the past expenses you have incurred due to your injury, the expenses you will likely incur, and the impacts that the injury has had on your life.
- Collecting and organizing witness testimony and evidence that can be used to prove your claims.
- Timely filing of all court-required paperwork and attendance at all pre-trial conferences and hearings on your behalf.
- Skilled negotiation that is focused on obtaining a fair settlement offer on your behalf.
- Guidance as to the pros and cons of accepting a settlement offer.
- Litigation, including the delivery of opening and closing statements as well as the examination of witnesses and the presentation of evidence.
- Assistance collecting your settlement or award.
- A client-friendly contingent fee payment scheme means that you don’t owe your lawyer for his or her services unless there is a successful outcome to your case, which ensures that every accident victim who needs legal help can receive it without an upfront financial investment.