Florida law provides broad protections for those who suffer injury due to the aggression of dogs belonging to others. F.S. 767 details the state’s “Damage by Dogs” laws. That of course includes bites, but it could also mean other types of injuries inflicted without a bite.
F.S. 767.01 specifically says owners of dogs “shall be liable for any damage done by their dogs to a person.” There is a separate statute, F.S. 767.04, that states the owner of a dog who bites any lawfully present person is liable for the actions of the dog – even if the owner had no prior indication the dog was vicious.
In a recent case out of Nebraska, a plaintiff and her husband sued the owner of two dogs who chased – but never bit or touched – them. As a result of being charged by the dogs (one in particular in the unfenced yard with no restraint), plaintiff fell backward and injured her elbow.
In Grammer v. Lucking, the question was question under state law whether the dogs had “chased” her under definitions recognized by state law, which grants exceptions for dogs who are merely acting in a playful or mischievous manner.
Plaintiff and her husband had been out for a stroll in their neighborhood when they neared defendant’s back yard. When they got within 20 feet, two dogs in the yard began to bark and growl. One was on a chain, the other was not. There was no fence or other barrier. When the dogs started to run toward the couple, the husband stepped in front of his wife to protect her.
The dog that was on a chain was not able to get near them. However, the other dog continued to run toward them. It ran passed the husband toward the wife. As it did so, the wife fell. However, once she fell, the dog stopped. Seconds later, the dog’s owner called them both inside.
Although the dog had not bitten, scratched or otherwise come in any contact with her, plaintiff was nonetheless injured and required medical attention.
The couple later sued under state law that imposes liability for dog owners for damages caused by their dogs when the dogs, “kill, wound, injure, worry or chase any person or persons.” In this case, plaintiffs allege the dogs chased them.
Defendants moved for summary judgment. Trial court judge considered the request, saying that to survive a summary judgment motion, plaintiff would need to show the dogs were chasing her in order to catch and harm her. Judge state no other facts would defeat the motion, and he didn’t consider whether the dogs had “injured” plaintiff. Trial court found that because the dogs didn’t intend to catch plaintiff, the owner couldn’t be found liable and granted defense motion for summary judgment.
Plaintiffs appealed directly to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which reversed.
The problem was the district court’s narrow focus on a single definition of the term “chase.” There are three definitions worth considering. The first, which the district court analyzed, means to follow persistently or quickly in order to catch or harm. But it could also mean “to make run away” or “to go in pursuit.”
Although the court had not yet considered the definition of the term “injure” in the context of the dog bite statute, our dog bite injury lawyers know it’s generally recognized to mean infliction of bodily hurt on someone or something.
While the Nebraska Supreme Court agreed with district court that the dogs hadn’t intended to catch plaintiff (the one unleashed dog stopped when she fell), there was a strong case to make that the dogs had made her to run away and/ or had gone in pursuit of her. She had suffered injury as a result.
Therefore, justices reversed and the case was remanded for trial.
Call Fort Lauderdale Injury Attorney Richard Ansara at (954) 761-4011. Serving Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties.
Grammer v. Lucking, Jan. 15, 2016, Nebraska Supreme Court
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