Can a Dog Bite Land You in Jail? South Florida Criminal Defense Attorney Explains
Dogs may be man’s best friend, but having an aggressive dog can also be a costly legal nightmare for its owner in more ways than one. If your dog bites and/or injures someone, you could be looking at steep civil and criminal penalties in Florida.
When it comes to canine-caused injuries, Florida is a strict liability state. This means if your dog bites someone, you are legally responsible for that person’s injuries. It doesn’t matter whether you knew your dog was dangerous, or whether the dog had ever bitten anyone before. You’re still responsible as long as the dog bite occurred in a public place or the person was lawfully on private property (in other words you’re only off the hook if your dog bit a trespasser or someone who was breaking into your home).
Dog bite cases can cost thousands of dollars depending on the extent of a person’s injuries. Typically, depending on the circumstances, if your dog bites someone at your own home you’re likely covered by your home owner’s insurance policy. So even if you’re sued for the injuries, it’s actually your insurance company who is getting sued. Injured by a dog bite in South Florida? Give us a call to be referred to a trusted injury lawyer in our network.
Beyond civil penalties, can a dog bite actually result in criminal charges against you? In Florida, the answer is yes.
It is possible to be charged with either a misdemeanor or a felony in Florida if your dog bites or injures someone.
Florida has a “Dangerous Dog Act” which states that a dog’s owner can be charged with a misdemeanor if a dog classified as “dangerous” by the Animal Control Board attacks or bites a person or a domestic animal without provocation.
Even if the dog was not officially classified as dangerous, if the owner knew the dog had been aggressive in the past, the owner can still be charged.
In the rare or extreme case in which an owner knows the dog is capable and likely to cause death or great bodily injury if not restrained, the owner can actually be charged with a felony if the dog kills or seriously injures a person.
While regulations vary a bit by county, under Florida law a dog can be classified as “dangerous” if:
- It has aggressively bitten, attacked, endangered, or inflicted severe injury on a human being on public or private property
- It has severely injured or killed a domestic animal while off the owner’s property
- It has been trained to fight, or is a fighting dog
- It has chased or approached a person on the street, sidewalk, or public place when unprovoked
Thankfully, most dog owners don’t buy a dog with the intention of having it hurt other people. Some people want aggressive breeds for protection, especially in neighborhoods or cases where they may already feel unsafe, which is completely understandable. For example, a woman who was previously assaulted may feel more comfortable walking at night with a German Shepherd.
But unfortunately, Florida’s dog bite laws are heavily weighted against the owner. Civilly the owner is strictly liable for a dog bite even if the dog has been friendly, placid and agreeable its entire life.
So if you do have a dangerous, or aggressive dog, make sure to take any and all precautions to keep both you and your dog out of trouble. When you aren’t with the dog, make sure he or she is secured inside your house, or properly restrained by either a fence or chain. Put a warning sign up on your fence so visitors and passers-by are on notice. If you really don’t trust the animal, consider a muzzle when taking him out in public. It may seem like overkill, but spending a few dollars being extra careful could save you thousands in the long run. We know of cases, for example, where dog bites have led to facial or hand disfigurement and it can result in tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in plastic surgery, reconstructive surgery, or even physical therapy bills.
Charged with a Crime in Florida for your dog biting or injuring someone?
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