News4Jax reports that a 22-month-old boy who was mauled by a dog at a Hawthorne home is in critical but stable condition. The Putnam County Sheriff’s Office said originally they were told the child was attacked at a friend’s house. Subsequently, they found out that information was incorrect. The attack occurred in the backyard of the boy’s home while his mother was inside sleeping. The home is on rural property nowhere close to any type of medical services. The boy was driven to a convenience store by his mother and a man who called 911. Putnam County paramedics met them at the store and took the toddler to Shands UF Medical Center in Gainesville about 2 p.m. who had significant injuries to his face and arm. He has already undergone several hours of surgery and remains in the in the pediatric intensive care unit. He is expected to need additional surgery.
Deputies and animal control officers have secured the pit bull mix that attacked the boy, along with six other dogs on the property. It is still being determined if the dog involved in the attack will be quarantined or euthanized. A criminal investigation was started including whether there will be criminal charges against the boy’s mother. The Florida Department of Children and Family Services is also investigating. If the evidence shows the child was in imminent danger, DCF will not allow the child to be returned to the home.
According to the Putnam Sheriff’s Office, this was the first time they had to respond to this address for animal-related issues.
All of us at Edwards & Ragatz hope this little boy heals quickly from an attack that many agencies are apparently investigating on whether it could have been avoided.
According to a Florida Bar article, in one year experts estimate that dogs bite more than 4.7 million people in the United States. While the numbers fluctuate, approximately 50 percent to 72 percent of the victims are children. Annually, about 800,000 bites require emergency medical treatment. Of the reported 78.2 million pet dogs living in 46.3 million U.S. homes in 2012, approximately 11.15 million resided in Florida. Based on these numbers, a report found that “[e]very year more than 500 Florida residents are bitten severely enough to require hospitalization, and on average two Floridians die due to injuries sustained from bites by dogs.”
Who is civilly liable for the injuries to this child? Under Florida law, Fla. Stat. §767.04 Dog owner’s liability for damages to persons bitten.—The owner of any dog that bites any person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, is liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners’ knowledge of such viciousness. However, any negligence on the part of the person bitten that is a proximate cause of the biting incident reduces the liability of the owner of the dog by the percentage that the bitten person’s negligence contributed to the biting incident. A person is lawfully upon private property of such owner within the meaning of this act when the person is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him or her by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when the person is on such property upon invitation, expressed or implied, of the owner. However, the owner is not liable, except as to a person under the age of 6, or unless the damages are proximately caused by a negligent act or omission of the owner, if at the time of any such injury the owner had displayed in a prominent place on his or her premises a sign easily readable including the words “Bad Dog.”
Homeowners’ insurance often provides coverage for dog bites — in fact, this type of claim represents more than one-third of all homeowners’ liability payouts. Some policies specifically exclude coverage for injuries caused by dogs. In American Strategic Ins. Co. v. Lucas-Solomon, 927 So. 2d 184 (Fla. 2d DCA 2006), for example, the Second District upheld such an exception. The trial judge’s finding that a nine-year-old “owned and kept” the dog separate from the ownership of her parents granted the daughter more coverage than the policy gave her mother and father, the named insureds. “We cannot conclude that such coverage was the intent of the parties based on the understanding of the words used in the policy from the perspective of an ordinary person.”