Florida Dog Bite Injuries

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"Full Transcript: Free Advice Interview with Personal Injury Attorney Jason Turchin

The following is a transcript of an interview with Florida personal injury and dog bite lawyer, Jason Turchin, conducted on February 9, 2007. Mr. Turchin is currently an associate with Bernstein & Maryanoff, a
law firm with over 20 years experience handling injury and wrongful death cases throughout the
state of Florida. Mr. Turchin specializes in crime victims’ rights, car accident cases, personal
injury cases, and wrongful death cases, settling over 1,000 cases involving big insurance
companies. In this interview, he discusses the laws pertaining to dog bite liability in the state
of Florida, liability and comparative negligence in dog bite cases, and what dog owners can do to
decrease their risk for dog bite liability.

Free Advice: What are Florida’s laws on dog bites?

Jason Turchin: Florida has a statute on dog bites and there are also different
ordinances in cities, towns, and counties. Unlike a lot of other states, we don’t have a one-bite
rule. Just because your dog’s never bitten anybody before does not mean that you’re not
responsible for the injuries caused by the dog once they do. We have essentially strict
liability
against dog owners. A dog owner is strictly liable for any of the injuries or death
caused by their dog to somebody else.

There are some exceptions, but for the most part strict liability [is the rule]. There are two
ways in which a dog owner could be found not strictly liable. First, any damage caused by the dog
is going to be reduced by the victim’s own negligence. If the victim antagonized the dog and the
dog, for whatever reason, bit that person, a jury can apportion a percentage of fault to the
victim. So if they say the victim is 50% responsible and the dog the other 50% and the jury awards
$10,000 to the victim, the dog owner is only responsible for 50% of that judgment [or $5,000].

The other way that a dog owner can protect themselves from liability is by actually posting a
sign that says "bad dog." If they display the words "bad dog" then for the most part the owner’s
not going to be liable unless they were independently negligent in causing the injury.

Free Advice: What damages are included in a Florida dog bite case?

Jason Turchin: Generally there are compensatory damages with economic and non-
economic damages. Economic damages are calculable damages like lost wages, co-payments, medical
expenses, future and past medical expenses, potential future lost wages, past lost wages, anything
we can actually calculate. There are also non-economic damages like pain and suffering and mental
anguish that the victim of the dog bite had incurred.

Free Advice: Do you have any examples of Florida dog bite cases that you’ve been
involved in?

Jason Turchin: You hear a lot of jokes about mailmen who are chased by dogs all
the time when they’re going door to door and delivering mail. Well, if a mail person goes to the
door and delivers mail and your dog goes out and bites the mail person, you are strictly liable
for everything that happened and any of the injuries that arose as a result of the dog bite.
Another example is a cable person or a phone person going in your back yard. If you don’t have any
signs posted that say "bad dog" and the person goes in the back yard to check the cables and your
dog bites them, you’re strictly liable.

Let’s say you have a party at your house and your dog’s just hanging out and smelling everybody
and enjoying the company. If, for whatever reason, the dog gets spooked and bites somebody, you’re
strictly liable for all the injuries and damages as a result of the dog bite.

Free Advice: Is there anything special that’s needed to prove a Florida dog bite
lawsuit?

Jason Turchin: Nothing really special or nothing totally different than most
other types of injury cases. However, you do have to prove that the dog was actually owned by the
person you’re pursuing the case against, and that that dog bit you and that you were injured as a
result of that. It is strict liability for the most part. The burden really shifts to the dog
owner to prove that you were comparatively at fault or that they had a ‘bad dog’ sign posted, in
which case they could raise some defenses to the case. But, for the most part it is strict
liability.

Free Advice: What does Florida law say about when a person is warned not to pet the
dog, does, and then is bitten?

Jason Turchin: The dog owner is still responsible for the injuries. However, the
amount for which they will be found liable is going to be put against the comparative fault of the
person who didn’t listen. It’s certainly a good idea that if you know your dog is dangerous, or
even just to protect yourself, if somebody goes to pet the dog and you say, “Be careful. My dog
may bite you.” If the person still goes ahead and pets the dog and they’re bitten, you can bring
that in front of a jury and say, “Look, I warned him.” Really, the person who was injured assumed
the risk of petting the dog and there’s nothing else that you could have done to change that. It
becomes a jury question and whether a jury believes you, whether they feel some kind of compassion
for the person who was injured, or whether they believe that the person who was injured assumed
the entire risk and you as a dog owner shouldn’t be responsible is up to them. It does generally
go to a jury to decide who they’re going to believe and what percentage of fault they’re going to
portion to each person.

Free Advice: Any other advice on what the dog owner can do to decrease their liability?

Jason Turchin: Post a sign that says "bad dog" and, if you know that your dog is
dangerous, warn people. Or, even just take precautions and tell people to be careful when they’re
around your dog. If you know that your dog jumps, make sure that you warn people who want to pet
the dog that your dog may jump on them or bite them. There’s nothing that you can do absolutely to
protect yourself, but you can certainly take some measures to at least reduce the risk.

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