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What Could Potential Changes To Florida's Dog Bite Laws Mean For You?

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If you're a dog owner in Florida, you may already be aware of your state's relatively draconian laws governing injuries caused by dogs. While some states have a "one bite" rule that essentially eliminates liability for a bite from a dog never known to be aggressive, Florida courts can order the euthanasia of a dog for a single injury -- even one deemed to have been provoked. The constitutionality of this law is now being challenged in state court. What could the elimination of this rule mean for Florida dog owners? Read on to learn more about dog bite protections under Florida law and the standards to which you may be subject if this law is determined to be unconstitutional.

What protections does Florida law offer to those injured by a dog?

Under Florida state law, dog owners are legally and financially responsible for any bite-related damages caused by their dogs to victims on public property, like a dog park or sidewalk. Dog owners are also responsible for bite injuries to a victim who is legally on private property, whether someone standing in his or her own yard or spending time as a guest in your house. However, if your dog bites an intruder or someone not lawfully on private property, you won't be deemed liable and it's unlikely your dog will be punished. You could also escape liability if it's found that the person who was injured deliberately provoked or harmed your dog, causing your dog to bite.

Unfortunately for owners of previously gentle dogs, the financial liability associated with dog bite injuries can include a death sentence for the dog responsible for the bite. Local animal control authorities are permitted to order the euthanasia of any dog involved in an attack deemed as serious -- often any injury requiring more than at-home medical treatment. There is no legal process for permitting a dog owner to respond to this sentence, and dog owners have found it difficult to appeal these matters.

Are there changes coming to Florida's dog bite laws?

One dog owner has challenged this law in state court. If the law is determined to be unconstitutional, it will be repealed and will no longer give animal control authorities unfettered ability to order the disposal of healthy and previously non-aggressive dogs. However, legislators may attempt to rewrite this law in a way that complies with the constitution by giving dog owners the ability to contest the euthanasia request in court. This could still permit certain aggressive dogs to be put down if they're considered to be a danger to their owners or community.

How can you protect your dog under the current laws?

While this appeal is pending, the current law is still in effect -- which means avoiding situations in which your dog is given the opportunity to bite is the key to protecting both your dog and the public. If you often walk your dog on public streets or let him or her run unleashed in a dog park, you may want to invest in some obedience training to ensure your dog will return quickly to your side upon a verbal command, which can help you defuse potentially tense situations. 

If your dog tends to be aggressive or protective in certain situations and you can't guarantee a visitor won't be nipped, you may wish to put up "bad dog" signs on visible parts of your property. Unless the person bitten by your dog is under age 6, these signs can often be deemed adequate notice to visitors to absolve you from liability unless the dog bite was caused by your own negligent or reckless action.

For more information about dog bite laws in other parts of the country, contact a firm like Scherline And Associates.