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Delray Beach Dog Bite Lawyers

Man’s best friend.  Dogs certainly can be.  However, aggressive dogs, or even improperly socialized “friendly” dogs can quickly morph from your best friend into your worst nightmare.  It happens more than most people realize; over 4 million people are bitten by dogs in the U.S. each year, and almost a million people have to receive medical care because of a dog bite.  For some people, treatment is minor and recovery is simple.  For other people, dog bites can be far more serious; there are more than a dozen dog-related fatalities each year.  If you have been the victim of a dog bite, let the dog bite lawyers at Demand the Limits in Delray Beach help you get the compensation you need to recover from your injuries.

You might think that seeking compensation for injuries due to a dog bite is a fairly simple process.  In theory, it should be.  However, what many people do not realize is that the vast majority of dog bites occur because of a family pet or a pet owned by a friend or relative.  These personal relationships can complicate the process, leaving people uncertain how to proceed after a dog bite.   Further complicating the issue is the fact that children under the age of 14 are disproportionately the victim of dog bites.

There are several factors contributing to the fact that children are more likely than adults to be the victims of a dog bite, but children’s smaller size means that they are often seriously injured by a bite that would not have led to serious injuries for an adult.  In addition, because children are unable to direct their own treatment and care, if they were outside of the care of a parent at the time of a dog bite, injuries may have been exacerbated by an adult failing to seek prompt and appropriate medical care for the injury.

How serious are dog bites?

The severity of an individual dog bite depends on a number of factors.  However, in terms of a larger problem, dog bites are a surprisingly serious issue in the United States.  Each year, dog bites are responsible for about $500 billion in damages each year.  These damages include, not only medical expenses, but also time away from work.

In addition, the true cost of an individual dog bite may not be immediately apparent.  Many dog bite victims suffer permanent scarring, have to endure multiple surgeries, and may require plastic surgery if they are injured.  This is a bigger risk for younger dog bite victims, because they are often attacked at face-level.  Facial injuries are worse for two reasons.  First, the face is composed primarily of soft-tissues, which are easier to damage than tissues found in other parts of the body.  Second, facial wounds are much harder to disguise than wounds and scarring on the other part of the body.

Am I entitled to compensation because of a dog bite?

Maybe.  A dog bite victim is not automatically entitled to compensation from the dog’s owner.    However, Florida law does not require a dog bite victim to prove that a dog had previous aggressive behavior in order to recover damages for a dog bite.  The applicable law is Florida Code § 767.04, which provides that “The owner of any dog that bites any person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, is liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owner’s knowledge of such viciousness.”

Taking a look at the statute, it is good news for dog bite victims.  If you are lawfully in the place where you are bitten by a dog, the dog’s owner is liable, regardless of your behavior.  This means that dog bite laws are strict liability laws.  You do not have to prove that you did not provoke the dog’s bite.  This can be a very important factor, because, especially when children are the victim of a dog’s bite, there may be some fault on the part of the victim.  This strict liability law allows you to recover for a dog bite, even if the owner had no reason to believe that the dog would bite and even if the owner did not violate the reasonable person standard.

What if the owner did know a dog was aggressive?

While Florida’s dog bite law is a strict liability law, designed to protect people even in the event that a previously non-aggressive dog bit the person, many people wonder if there are additional damages available if an owner kept an aggressive dog.  Yes, there are.  In tort law, there is a concept known as “the reasonable person.”  A person is considered negligent if his or her actions differ from how a similarly situated reasonable person would have behaved.  In many instances, dogs who bite have previously exhibited aggressive behavior.  An owner who fails to take steps to protect people from an aggressive dog can be considered negligent.

Do I have to sue the owner to recover damages?

While you are not required to sue a dog’s owner to recover damages for a dog bite, you may find that a lawsuit becomes an important part of your recovery, even when the dog’s owner wants to pay for your injuries.  That is because, for many dog owners, their ability to pay for your injuries is based on coverage by their homeowner’s insurance policies.  A dog owner may be perfectly willing to pay for coverage, while the insurance company is reluctant to do so.  This may require filing suit against the dog’s owner.  While this can be difficult to do if the dog is owned by a friend, neighbor, or loved one, that is the reason that they are insured.

Of course, the dog owner and the property owner may be separate individuals.  Who do you sue if the dog owner is not the same person who owned the property where you were bitten?  It depends on the nature of the property.  If you were attacked in a public place, then you probably do not have any recourse against anyone other than the dog’s owner.  However, if you were attacked in a private place and the property owner was aware of a vicious dog on the property, but failed to take steps to protect you, you may have an action against the property owner.

What to do if a dog bites you

If you have been bitten by a dog, the first thing is to get appropriate medical care.  However, what is appropriate medical care depends on several factors.  Dog bites can range from nips that do not break the skin or cause any damage to severe injuries, depending on the extent of the bite, the size of the dog, the location of the bite, the size of the victim, and the victim’s general health.  Therefore, we strongly advice seeking medical care as soon as possible if you have been the victim of a dog bite.  This is because even minor dog bites can cause infections that need to be treated with antibiotics.  You may also need a tetanus booster, depending on the date of your last tetanus shot.

If you are treating your wound at home until you can get medical treatment, then: cover the injury with a clean towel to stop bleeding; elevate the bitten area, if possible; wash the bite carefully with soap and water; apply an antibiotic ointment (and reapply daily); and cover the wound with a sterile bandage.  If the wound is deep, if it will not stop bleeding, if there appears to be tissue damage, or if you notice any signs of infection, seek professional medical treatment immediately.

When you seek medical treatment from the doctor, you should know that the doctor is going to ask you some questions.  This is because dog bites are not just an individual problem: because they pose a potential threat to public health, the doctor has a duty to try to identify the dog that caused the injury and to be sure that dog does not have communicable diseases.  Therefore, you should be prepared to provide the following information, if you have the information available to you: the dog’s owner; whether the dog was up to date on vaccinations; whether the bite was provoked or unprovoked; and any health conditions that you may have.  After examining the wound, the doctor will determine the best course of treatment.

The type of treatment that the doctor will recommend depends on a number of factors. All dog bites are thoroughly cleaned to remove bacteria, dirt, and any dead tissues. The doctor will examine the wound to determine if there has been any damage to the underlying structure, including tendons, muscles, nerves, and bones. Serious wounds may or may not be sutured; suturing wounds promotes healing with fewer scars, but can also trap bacteria and increase the risk of infection.  Once a wound has healed, you may require surgery to restore function or form.   You may be given oral antibiotics, a tetanus shot, or even rabies preventative treatment.

What about rabies?

You may feel silly worrying about rabies, but rabies is an extremely valid concern.  While the risk of transmission of rabies is relatively small, it is worth noting that dogs are one of the most vectors for rabies in the United States.  If the dog is your dog or a family pet, then you know or can find out its vaccination history.  If the dog was a friend’s dog, you can ask for proof of vaccination history.  Likewise, if the dog belonged to a stranger and you can identify the owner, you can ask for vaccination history.  However, make sure that you see actual proof of a rabies’ vaccination.  If the owner cannot provide that proof, then the owner will either need to voluntarily quarantine the dog with their veterinarian or animal control to make sure that no symptoms develop.  If the owner will not agree to a voluntary quarantine, the government can compel a quarantine or even order destruction of the animal to test its brain for rabies.

While the chance of rabies transmission is very small, the potential consequences could not be higher; rabies is considered absolutely fatal in humans.  Fortunately, you can begin preventative treatment if the dog who bite you is identified as having rabies or if you cannot find the dog that bit you.  Just be forewarned; while the protocol for rabies prevention is no longer particularly painful, it is both very expensive and time-consuming.

How to prevent dog bites

At Demand the Limits, our Delray Beach dog bit attorneys are here to help you deal with the aftermath of a dog bite.  However, we believe that dog bite prevention is extremely important.  Following our dog bite prevention tips will not prevent all dog bites, but it might help lower your risk of future dog bites.

  • Do not assume that some dog breeds are bite-proof. While you may hear about so-called vicious breeds, the fact is that the dogs that are responsible for the most bites in the United States are the breeds of dogs you are most likely to find in homes in the United States.  While some breeds may be more prone to biting than others, especially smaller breeds, because many bites are because of fear, not aggression, there are no bite-proof dog breeds.  Any dog, even a dog with no history of aggression, can bite.
  • Avoid unknown dogs, when possible. If approaching a dog you do not know, ask for an owner’s permission before touching the dog, and follow the owner’s instructions.  If approaching an unattended dog, especially one that may be injured, exercise extreme caution.
  • Never leave young children unattended with any dog, even beloved family pets with no history of biting. Children can accidentally hurt or scare a dog, which can result in even a docile animal biting.
  • Do not disturb dogs that are eating.
  • Do not disturb a mama dog with her puppies.
  • If a dog is aggressive, do not run or scream; both can trigger aggressive reactions from dogs. Instead, avoid eye contact with the dog, stay calm, and move away slowly.

Conclusion

At Demand the Limits, we are dog lovers.  We do not think that a dog bite means a dog is bad.  However, we do believe that a dog bite victim is entitled to compensation for his or her injuries, and that negligent dog owners who fail to protect others from dogs that they know are aggressive should bear responsibility for those injuries.  If you have been the victim of a dog bite, contact us at Demand the Limits in Delray Beach for a free consultation.