OH NO – MY DOG BITES – WHAT THE LAW SAYS

Can I go to jail if my dog bites someone

Written by Lauren N Turner Esq.

Lauren N. Turner, Esq., a native Floridian, started her career in litigation in 2015. She received her Juris Doctorate from Nova University‘s Shepard Broad School of Law in 2015, holds a Masters in Criminal Justice from Boston University, and a Bachelor of Science in Organizational Management from Palm Beach Atlantic University.

June 30, 2020

Dog bites and the law in Florida

*Firstly, dog bites are serious and the correct professional medical attention should be taken if you’ve been bitten by a dog.

The Model Penal Code (or MPC) is the examination of a criminals ‘mental state’. It is utilized in Florida when determining whether or not a crime was committed on purpose or not. Also referred to as ‘Mens rea’ in snobby circles, it is usually used to mean “culpability.” An example may help illustrate this theory, and why its so tough to hold a dog owner liable in criminal court when the unexpected happens.

dog bite

Here is a multiple-choice question for you:

Devin owns a chihuahua named Killer. He received the dog as a gift from his parents, who named the dog. Devin thinks the name is funny because Killer is so gentle and shy that he runs away from the mail carrier. When Devin took Killer for a walk in the playground, he let him run around without his leash. When 3-year old Vern decides to pet Killer, the dog suddenly turns on the child and kills him. Can Devin be convicted of reckless murder in an MPC jurisdiction? (Since you are likely not a law student, Reckless murder means ‘recklessness & conscious disregard.’)

A. Yes, because he consciously disregarded the risk that Killer would attack a child.

B. Yes, because he should have known that chihuahuas are a killer breed.

C. Yes, because chihuahua owners are strictly liable for the acts of their pets.

D. Yes, if he realized that Killer was a dangerous dog.

A is wrong because ‘To consciously disregard the risk’, you have to be aware of the risk. Devin has no awareness that he owns a killer chihuahua’ in this example. Killer is described as “gentle and shy”.

B is wrong because “Should have known” is the standard for negligence. Devin is being charged with reckless murder. Now, someone who has a dog that has shown the propensity to bite or has bitten people in the past very well may be guilty of negligence for putting their dog in situations where the dog has an opportunity to behave as it has in the past; but here, Devin is clueless that Killer is an actual killer…

C is wrong because there is no such thing as strict liability homicide. There is, however, strict liability when is comes to a dog owner’s responsibility for when his dog bites someone or someone’s property, like another dog, but that is in CIVIL court, not criminal court. You cannot get jail time for that, but it I usually expensive…

D is correct because of the word “if”. Had Devin known his chihuahua was a bloodthirsty monster, he would be liable for reckless murder. Here, Devin was (as aforementioned) totally clueless, therefore he is not guilty for reckless murder.

Listen, when your dog attacks, its scary. Its scary for the victim and its scary for you. But facing facts and stepping up is not only responsible, but it can engender good faith. Don’t give away the baby with the bathwater though- there’s a lot of factors that contribute to a dog biting. Where were Vern’s parents? What was Vern doing to Killer? Was he pulling his tail? Was Killer off leash in a dog park or a children’s playground? Circumstances matter, and a good attorney can help you wade through the nitty gritty to get to a solution that is fair to all involved. While this example was an extreme, we hope it helps illustrate the seriousness – but not total bleakness- of a dog bite and its aftermath.

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