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Slate v. Blatt – Vicious Dog Statute Weighed

Every year, homeowner insurance companies in Florida pay $7 million annually to victims of dog bite injuries. Some argue this is the work of overly-litigious personal injury lawyers. But the fact is, dog bites that result in lawsuits are generally not minor events. They cause severe and lasting injuries and scarring, as well as significant medical expenses. pitbull

In some instances, particularly when the victim is a young child or elderly, these attacks can be fatal.

While any dog may be the subject of these cases, some tend to have a reputation for being more likely to attack or to cause more serious injuries. Without question, the most commonly cited is the pit bull.

Courts in Florida have periodically weighed the issue of whether these dogs should be considered inherently dangerous and thus subject to additional regulation.

In 1989, the U.S District Court in Southern Florida in American Dog Owners’ Association v. Dade County ruled an ordinance in that county subjecting pit bull owners to heightened requirement was not overly-vague in terms of defining the breed, and underscored that these dogs are known to be responsible for a disproportionate number of attacks on humans.

A number of other courts have upheld local ordinances requiring owners of these dogs to register them, carry additional insurance, and keep them appropriately leashed and/or confined so as to minimize danger.

In 1991, Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal decided in Giaculli v. Bright that landlords need not be notified that a particular pit bull is vicious per se in order for a landlord and owners to be placed on notice the tenant has a vicious dog.

This is because, the court ruled, pit bulls “as a breed are known to be extremely aggressive and have been bred as attack animals.”

Unlike the standard in other states, per F.S. 767.04, victims of dog bites need not prove the owner knew the dog was vicious or had a history of bites in order to hold the owner liable to cover the cost of injuries.

Still, animal lobbyists across the country continue to fight what they refer to as an unfair stigma, and some courts are reconsidering their stance, despite clear evidence that, while these breeds can be docile, they do account for a higher share of human injuries.

Take for example the recent case of State v. Blatt before the West Virginia Supreme Court.

In this case, an 8-year-old child was injured when a 2-year-old female pit bull terrier belonging to his neighbors bit him in the face.

In addition to a civil lawsuit, the state brought criminal charges against the dog’s owners, alleging they harbored a dog that was vicious, dangerous or in the habit of biting other persons. Ultimately, the court found the couple was not guilty of harboring a vicious dog, but nonetheless ordered the dog be destroyed, finding that she was inherently vicious.

The dog’s owners appealed, arguing they had never had any prior problems with the dog around children and that pit bulls are not inherently dangerous or vicious.

The state supreme court reversed the circuit court’s decision. The court ruled courts may not rely upon a breed-specific presumption when ordering destruction of an animal. Based on the facts of this case, the court ruled, there was not enough evidence to support the assertion that the dog had to be euthanized.

If you or a loved one has been injured by a dog bite in Fort Myers, contact our experienced legal team today.

Call Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, at 1-800-646-1210.

Additional Resources:

State v. Blatt , June 16, 2015, West Virginia Supreme Court

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