Many of us in South Florida are dog lovers and own dogs. Yet most people are not fully aware of the consequences that owners face for victims of dog bites. This may not seem like a matter of top priority, but as we have learned from a recent story, everyone is subject to the law.
The Palm Beach Post reported on Thursday that the dog of former NFL player Joe Namath was sanctioned by a special magistrate and declared “dangerous.” According to the report, the Labrador retriever, Leo, will no longer be allowed to wander through the yard of Namath’s home in Tequesta without a leash or a muzzle, must be caged when they have guests, and is not allowed to be taken to public places. Namath will also face increased fees to license Leo and must notify animal control when he leaves the city or when the dog dies. Namath’s Weimaraner, Stella, was also set to be sanctioned, but charges were dropped when a witness for the case did not show up.
The sanction stemmed from incidents in which the Labrador charged at a UPS worker and bit a nurse. However, the Palm Beach Post noted that this was not the first incident. Officials from animal control noted that since 2007 the dogs were involved in four other attacks, including an attack in which a UPS worker was bitten on the calf in May 2007.
This story brings an important issue to light. How many dog owners actually know what penalties they are subject to if their dog attacks someone? Do victims know their rights if they are attacked by a dog? What if the dog is on a leash? Do you have a warning sign? Better yet, does it matter? Does the victim’s age matter?
Florida Statutes Section 767.04 states that dog owners are held strictly liable for any victim of a dog bite, meaning that it does not matter whether you, the owner, knew that the dog was vicious or that the dog never showed signs of bad behavior before. The dog owner is liable to all people in public places and to those that are legally allowed to be in a private place such as when a person is invited to a dog owner’s household or property. Dog owners must also keep in mind that cities have their own local ordinances which may come into play.
The Palm Beach Post stated that, speaking in defense of his dog, Namath said that his property is subject to gawkers and that he keeps a sign warning outsiders to beware of the animals.
There are lots of things people need to be aware of when owning a dog and as the statistics show, this is a problem which affects everyone. According to Dogbites.org, dog bites occur every 75 seconds in the U.S. and every day over 1,000 people are treated for dog bite emergencies. Dog owners should review Florida and city dog bite laws and be aware of the consequences if their dog attacks someone.