If you're a dog owner who resides in Florida, you may already be aware of the provision of state law that permits a dog to be quarantined and even euthanized after a single biting incident. You may be concerned about how to protect your pet if he or she is subject to the death penalty for even a provoked and minor attack. Fortunately, these laws may be changing soon to permit a bit more leeway for otherwise gentle pets who bite on a single occasion. Read on to learn more about how a recent court decision may give your pet a new lease on life, as well as how to minimize the odds you'll ever find yourself in civil court defending a dog bite charge.
How have Florida's dog bite laws recently changed?
For years, Florida pet owners have chafed under an often unevenly-enforced law that allows an animal control officer to order a dog euthanized after he or she bites someone, even if the bite was very minor or the dog was provoked into biting. In December 2015, a trial court judge deemed this law unconstitutional, as it vested too much power in the county animal control officer to decide whether a specific dog should live or die without requiring certain aggravating or mitigating factors to be weighed.
Although this court decision has saved the life of the dog at issue, it's not binding on other trial courts in the state -- until the state legislature rewrites Florida's existing dog bite laws to take this power away from county animal control officers or an appellate court speaks out on the constitutional issue, animal control officers are still able to quarantine and euthanize dogs without giving owners an opportunity to respond or plead for leniency.
Fortunately, a bill to change this practice statewide has gained good traction in the state Senate. This law will permit dog owners to appeal the seizure of a dog within 10 days and request a hearing in front of a neutral administrative law judge or civil judge. If this bill is signed into law by the Governor, your dog will no longer be subject to automatic or appeal-free euthanasia if he or she happens to bite someone.
What can you do to minimize your liability for a potential dog bite?
Even if this bill passes, you'll still want to take steps to ensure your dog doesn't have much motive or opportunity to bite another person. If your dog has a nervous disposition and tends to be stressed out in social situations, you'll need to place him or her in a secure, private area before having guests over. For dogs who demonstrate possessive or protective behaviors when it comes to food or their family, being fed separately from other animals (or humans) and even being muzzled while out for a walk or playing in a dog park should ensure that he or she isn't able to come into contact with others.
To help protect you when these preventive measures fall through, umbrella insurance can help financially insulate you from potential liability -- as well as provide you with the financial resources to fight a personal injury lawsuit or appeal a determination that your pet must be put to sleep. This insurance kicks in only after your primary homeowner's policy (covering dog bite claims) has reached its coverage limits. Many umbrella insurance policies also pay the legal fees incurred during defense of a personal injury claim. Because these policies are fairly rarely exercised due to the dearth of personal injury judgments exceeding insurance limits, their premiums are very low for the amount of coverage provided. In addition to umbrella insurance, you may also want to locate a good dog bite attorney near you.