Florida Dog-Bite Laws

A Florida dog owner's liability for bite injuries, the deadline for filing a dog-bite lawsuit, and more.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law
Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

When someone is hurt by a dog in Florida, state law determines whether the owner can be held responsible for a victim's injuries. It also sets the requirements for filing a lawsuit in state court, and imposes rules on Floridians who own dangerous and aggressive dogs. Whether you're a dog owner or you've been harmed by someone else's pet, it's important to understand how these rules apply to your situation.

How Long Do I Have to File a Dog-Bite Lawsuit in Florida?

A civil statute of limitations is a law that places a strict deadline on your right to file a personal injury lawsuit in state court. The clock usually starts ticking on the day a victim is injured. But each state has its own deadlines, and even within one state, different kinds of cases are subject to different rules.

Florida's statute of limitations has two deadlines that could be relevant to your dog-bite claim:

  • a four-year limit for lawsuits accusing a defendant of violating a statute in Florida's civil code, and
  • a two-year deadline for lawsuits accusing a defendant of negligence.

(Fla. Stat. § 95.11 (2023).)

If you try to file your lawsuit after the relevant deadline has passed, the court will almost certainly dismiss it, unless the circumstances call for a rare extension of the filing deadline. Especially if you're concerned about the timing of a potential lawsuit, you should consider consulting with an attorney familiar with Florida dog-bite and other personal injury cases.

Liability for Injuries Caused by Dogs in Florida

Florida dog owners are subject to one law that covers bites and another law that covers other kinds of injuries caused by their dogs. Both of these laws impose strict liability on owners (although, as covered below, owners sometimes have a defense).

Owners' liability for bite injuries. A Florida dog owner is liable for bite injuries if:

  • their dog bites another person, and
  • that person is in a public place or lawfully in a private place (including, potentially, the property of the owner of the dog).

(Fla. Stat. § 767.04 (2023).)

Florida law says that owners can be held liable for bite injuries "regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners' knowledge of such viciousness." This rule makes Florida a strict liability state when it comes to dog bites, separating it from states that use a so-called "one-bite" rule. (Under a one-bite rule, owners are only liable if they knew their dog might be dangerous.)

Owners' liability for non-bite injuries. Florida also has a law that applies to injuries other than bites—it states that owners are "liable for any damage done by their dogs" to a person, a domestic animal, or livestock. This law is worded differently from the law covering bite injuries, but Florida courts have ruled that it also imposes strict liability on owners for non-bite injuries caused by their dogs. (Fla. Stat. § 767.01 (2023); Fannin v. Hunter, 331 So. 3d 793 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2021).)

Negligence cases against non-owners. Only owners are strictly liable for dog-attack injuries in Florida. But sometimes a victim might have a good argument that someone other than the owner (for example, a dog-walker or the dog-owner's landlord) is responsible for their injuries. In a situation like that, a victim can bring a negligence case against the person (or people) who were at fault. To prove negligence, a plaintiff (the person suing) needs to show that the defendant was responsible for the dog when the incident occurred, and that their failure to take reasonable steps to protect people from the dog led to the plaintiff's injuries. (Tran v. Bancroft, 648 So. 2d 314 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1995).)

Defenses to a Florida Dog-Bite Claim

Florida's law gives owners three potential defenses when they're sued for a bite or other injury caused by their dog.

The victim was negligent. Even under a strict liability system, a victim can still do things like provoke or startle a dog that make them partially responsible for their own injuries. Under Florida law, the amount of damages a liable owner must pay will be reduced by a percentage equal to the percentage of blame assigned to the injured person. (A nonowner who gets sued for negligence has the same opportunity to show that the victim was partially or wholly responsible for their own injuries.)

The victim was trespassing. Florida law requires an injured person to be "lawfully" in the place where the bite occurred in order to recover damages. For example, invited guests and mail carriers are lawfully on a homeowner's property. But a person who is on private property without an invitation, and with no legal reason to be there, is trespassing and therefore not entitled to collect damages if they're hurt by the homeowner's dog.

The owner displayed "Bad Dog" signs. Even someone who's lawfully on a dog owner's property may not be able to recover damages under Florida's strict liability rule. Owners who prominently display an easily readable sign that includes the words "Bad Dog" can't be held liable unless the victim is under six years of age, or the owner's negligence contributed to the victim's injuries.

(Fla. Stat. § 767.04 (2023); Parsons v. Culp 328 So. 3d 341 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2021).)

Other Rules That Apply to Florida Dog Owners

In addition to its civil liability rules, Florida has other laws designed to protect the public from dangerous and aggressive dogs.

These rules include a hearing system for determining if a dog is dangerous. In the most serious cases, dogs that are classified as dangerous can be euthanized. Otherwise, the owner is required to take steps—like posting warning signs and making sure the dog is securely confined—to make sure the dog doesn't pose a threat to anyone. If a dangerous dog attacks a person or a domestic animal, the owner can be charged with a misdemeanor.

An owner can also be charged with a misdemeanor for an attack even if their dog hasn't been officially declared dangerous. This penalty only applies in very serious cases where:

  • the owner knows their dog is dangerous
  • the owner recklessly disregards the danger, and
  • the dog attacks and severely injures or kills a person.

(Fla. Stat. § 767.10-16 (2023).)

Getting Help With Your Florida Dog-Law Case

If you find yourself on either side of a dog-bite claim, or you're an owner facing another issue involving your pet, it's crucial to know how the law applies to your situation. If you have questions about your case, you should speak with an experienced attorney with experience in similar cases.

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