Can a Landlord Be Liable for a Dog Bite?
If you were bitten while visiting someone in an apartment building, you are probably wondering who you can hold legally liable for the bite. In Florida, owners are generally liable when their dogs bite someone—regardless of whether the dog had a history of aggressiveness.
However, suing the dog owner doesn’t always make sense. The owner might not have any renter’s insurance or other assets to pay a settlement. A building owner, however, most definitely has an insurance policy. But will Florida law allow a victim to sue the landlord where the dog is located? Our Florida dog bite lawyer looks at the relevant law.
Florida’s Dog Bite Statutes
Florida Statute § 767.04 is the primary dog bite statute. It states that the dog’s “owner” is liable to victims for damages in most situations. We think of the owner as the person who paid to buy the dog and who feeds it. But in some cases a landlord can also qualify.
Fla. Stat. §767.11 defines owner to include any individual or entity that keeps, harbors, possesses, or has custody or control of the dog. This expansive definition can easily cover a landlord, especially where the landlord exerts some control over the animal.
The strongest case will be where the landlord has agreed to watch the dog for the owner. For example, the owner could be away at work during the day or gone for a week on vacation. Where the landlord agrees to take responsibility for the animal, victims can sue the landlord for compensation to cover a bite.
Premises Liability Law
The state’s dog bite statute is not the only source of landlord liability. We might also use the state’s premises liability law, which requires that all property owners keep their premises reasonably safe for people the invite onto the property.
Consider the following example. A landlord allows tenants to tie their dog to a pole in the backyard while they are away at work. The pole is half coming out of the ground and rotting, and the dog easily gets loose and roams freely. The dog then bites another person who lives on the property.
In this example, the landlord might be liable because they were careless in maintaining the pole. Of course, in this example, a lot depends on whether the landlord knows the dog is a hazard. If the dog has a history of snapping or lunging at people, and the landlord knows about it, then they are probably liable to anyone hurt because the dog roamed free.
Premises liability cases are complicated. There are so many factors in play, including why you were on the property. Meet with an attorney to review whether you can bring a claim.
Get the Legal Help You Need
Landlords are not automatically liable for animal bites the way the animal’s owner is. Still, as shown above, there may be legal theories available that allow our clients to seek financial recovery from a property owner, even when he or she does not own the dog in question.
Contact Halpern Santos & Pinkert, P.A. today. Our consultations are free and confidential.