Can I Bring a Lawsuit if I Was Bitten by a Dog While Trespassing?
Experiencing a dog attack can be physically and emotionally scarring. Victims often have expensive medical bills and may even miss work while recovering from their wounds. Children face even greater risks due to their small size and lack of awareness of the dangers of aggressive dogs.
Dog owners are responsible for keeping others safe from their dogs in public, but what if you are hurt by a dog while trespassing on private property? A Florida personal injury lawyer can explain what general duties dog owners owe to trespassers and when they may be liable for damages. However, each case is different, so you should contact a knowledgeable lawyer if you need legal advice.
Who Can Be Considered a Trespasser?
A trespasser is a person unlawfully on another individual’s property without the express or implied consent of the property owner or another individual empowered to grant that consent, such as a tenant or caretaker.
Individuals with valid reasons to be on the property as part of their employment, such as postal employees or meter readers, are not classified as trespassers. A person might be a trespasser even if they were genuinely unaware that the property was private or if they mistakenly believed that they were still on their own property.
Do Property Owners Have a Duty to Trespassers?
Premises liability law specifies what duties property owners have to the different individuals who may come onto their property. Property owners owe the least duty of care to trespassers. They are not obligated to make their property safe for a trespasser or warn them of potential dangers because the trespasser is not lawfully on their property.
When a trespasser enters a property, they do so at their own risk. A property owner’s only responsibility is not to cause intentional harm to the trespasser or injure them through gross negligence. For example, setting up a trap to harm or kill trespassers would open the property owner up to potential personal injury claims.
However, it is crucial to remember that under Florida law, property owners have the right to defend themselves, their dwelling, and others from harm if they believe they are in immediate danger. An owner usually cannot be held liable if their dog defends them from a perceived threat from a trespasser on their private property.
Are Child Trespassers Treated Differently?
Because young children often cannot read warning signs and may not be aware of when a situation is unsafe, property owners need to take extra care to ensure that their property is not enticing to children. If a property owner is aware that a child could trespass on their property and they have a dog that could potentially cause harm, they should take all necessary precautions to keep their dog contained and ensure the safety of local children.
If your young child was hurt by a dog while trespassing, you should contact a Florida premises liability lawyer as soon as possible to learn about your legal options. This area of the law can be complicated, and it is critical to get solid legal advice.
When is an Owner Liable for Their Dog’s Actions?
Unlike some states, Florida enforces strict liability on dog owners. Strict liability means that a dog owner can be held responsible for any harm caused by their dog, regardless of whether that dog has ever shown aggression in the past. It also means that a victim does not have to prove negligence on the dog owner’s part. In fact, the owner could take all reasonable precautions, but if an incident happens with their dog, they could still be liable.
However, under Florida statutes, these rules only apply if the dog bite victim was on public property or was lawfully on private property. In nearly all cases where a trespasser was injured by a dog, the owner will not be held liable unless it can be shown that they acted with gross negligence.
Do the Laws Change if the Owner Has a “Dangerous Dog”?
Florida has special rules regarding the responsibilities of owners of dangerous dogs. A dangerous dog is a dog that has:
- Previously bitten or attacked another person or animal.
- Chased or aggressively approached a person without provocation.
The owner must muzzle a dangerous dog and keep it on a harness or leash in public. At home, the dog must be kept secured, and the property must have warning signs with the words “bad dog” displayed prominently at clearly visible locations. These signs will generally absolve the owner of responsibility if the dog injures someone on their property unless the owner engaged in a negligent act that caused the injury.
How Can a Personal Injury Lawyer Help You?
Florida’s dog bite laws can be complicated, and it is vital to have an advocate for your rights. This is particularly true if you or a loved one have been harmed by a dog while trespassing. Our skilled premises liability lawyers can look into the details of your case and determine whether the owner may be held liable for your damages. If the owner does share some responsibility for your injuries, you may be able to recover compensation, including payment for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Contact our office today to schedule a free consultation on your dog bite case.