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Are Florida’s Dog Bite Laws Toothless?

After a series of dog attacks in Florida, residents of Pinellas County and Clay County have expressed criticism of Florida’s dog bite laws. Although negligent dog owners face fees and sometimes lawsuits, the state often falls short of designating a dog as dangerous.

Dangerous Dogs

Owners of dangerous dogs must register their dog with the local animal control authority, renew that registration annually, vaccinate their dog for rabies, make sure the animal is permanently identified with a microchip or a tattoo, keep the dog in a proper enclosure, and post a warning sign on the premises where the dog resides. They must also keep their dogs muzzled and leashed whenever the animal is outside of its enclosure.

While Florida is a strict liability state when it comes to dog bites, dogs must have attacked a human and inflicted severe injury, severely injured or killed another animal more than once, or “chased or approached a person upon the streets, sidewalks, or any public grounds in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack” to be considered dangerous. Additionally, the dog may not be classified as dangerous if it was in any way provoked before the attack.

Even if a dog bites a person or another dog, they may not be designated a dangerous dog, and after paying fees and facing liability in a lawsuit, the owner will not be subject to any other penalties.

Victims Call for Stiffer Penalties

In Pinellas County, for example, a pit bull mix jumped its fence and attacked a neighbor’s dog. When the man stepped in to defend his dog, the pit bull mix bit him on his hands and fingers. Another neighbor tried to intervene with a baseball bat, but the dog bit him on the leg. The dog’s owner paid $650 in fines, the pit bull mix spent 10 days in quarantine, and one of the victims is suing over his dog’s $2,000 vet bills.

Still, the owner will not be required to post a warning sign on her property, nor will she need to muzzle or leash her dog in public. The victims of the attack say this is a mistake.

There is a very dangerous dog in this neighborhood,” one of the men told ABC Action News.

A similar situation occurred in Clay County when a Dogo Argentine attacked a beagle puppy and caused $15,000 worth of veterinary bills. Owners of the Dogo Argentine did not receive a citation because the animal was only involved in one attack. Lawmakers in Clay County want to “tighten up” the state’s dangerous dog statute, so a canine can be identified as “aggressive” after a first attack. Sadly, dangerous dogs that bite again and again can be put down, so marking a dog as aggressive may incentivize owners to control their animals without putting dogs at risk.

As the saying goes, “there are no bad dogs, only bad owners.”

How You Can Protect Yourself from Dangerous Dogs

First, remember that any dog can be dangerous – whether it has attacked before or not. Always be cautious around strange dogs and stay away from dogs who are sleeping, eating, chewing on a bone, playing with a toy, or caring for puppies.

If you see an off-leash dog, report it to local animal control authorities, and if the dog approaches you, stand very still until the animal loses interest and moves away. Do not run or scream and do avoid eye contact with the dog.

If another dog behaves aggressively toward your dog, walk away calmly, and try to put a visual barrier – like a fence or a parked car – between your dog and the other dog. Never try to break up a dog fight. If the other dog attacks, stay calm and focused and try to distract the other dog from a distance or call your dog away from the fight. The other dog’s owner should try to help you, as well.

After the fight, report the incident and exchange details with the other dog owner. Take your dog to the vet, and if you receive any bites, take yourself to the doctor.

Because one incident may not mark the dog as dangerous, you may need to explore other avenues of liability. Filing a dog bite lawsuit with Lauri J. Goldstein & Associates, PLLC can help you hold the owner accountable and pay for medical and veterinary bills. In some cases, you may even ask for specific remedies to help ensure other people do not suffer similar attacks. For example, you can say you won’t settle unless your neighbor puts a warning sign on their lawn, even if the state has not classified the dog as dangerous.

Whether you get bitten by a dog or need help paying your dog’s vet bills, our tough, caring, and experienced attorney can help you through the aftermath of a dog attack.

Call us at (866) 675-4427 or contact us online to discuss your case during a free consultation today – we are available 24/7 to take your call.