Martin v. Christman – Dog Bite Liability in Campground Incident

Recently, a three-year-old dog bite victim, severely disfigured after an attack by her grandfather’s pit bulls, made headlines when she was reportedly asked to leave a fast food restaurant by an employee, who asserted she was “scaring” the other customers. kivathepit

The story went vial, the fast food chain was quick to offer a public apology and $30,000 toward the child’s medical expenses. Now, there is question about whether the incident at the restaurant happened. What is not in doubt, however, is that this child did suffer severe injuries as a result of a dog attack, and will require extensive an ongoing care for treatment of those injuries.

West Palm Beach dog bite injury lawyers know that in Florida, victims can pursue damages against the dog’s owner – regardless of the dog’s prior history of vicious acts or the owner’s knowledge of such behavior. This is codified in Florida Statute 767.04.

The primary caveat is that whatever negligence the victim had in proximately causing the attack may reduce the overall amount of the award. So for example, if the dog was provoked or if the victim was trespassing on the owner’s property, this could significantly limit the amount of damages that could potentially be collected. When it comes to dog bite injuries involving children, this provision is much less an issue, as dog owners are required to take into account the lack of foresight a child has in preventing such attacks.

However, these same protections aren’t available in every state. In the recent case of Martin v. Christman, weighed by the Vermont Supreme Court, the parents of a young girl sought justice from the owner of a dog who attacked their then-three-year-old at a summer campsite.

According to court records, the two families shared adjacent lots on the site, and the girl approached the dog’s owner and asked if she could pet him. The owner said she could. However, the 2-year-old male pit bull, named Diesel, suddenly attacked her without warning. The owner pulled the dog off the child, but her wounds were severe, requiring surgery.

The family filed a lawsuit against the dog’s owner, their insurer and the campground on numerous theories, including negligence and strict liability. Strict liability holds that a defendant can be held liable regardless of fault. The only proof required is that the tort occurred and the defendant was responsible.

However, the trial court in this instance granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the issue of strict liability, holding that common law recognized in that state requires the owner have prior knowledge of viciousness. The premises liability claim against the campsite was dismissed, as was the direct action claim against the owners’ insurer.

On appeal, the Vermont Supreme Court was tasked with deciding whether to alter the state’s common law precedent of strict liability regarding dog bite claims. The court declined to do so.

That means the victim can continue pursuit of the claim on the grounds of negligence (proving the owner was aware of the dog’s vicious nature), but it will undoubtedly make the case tougher.

Thankfully, Florida residents don’t have to overcome this hurdle.

Just recently in Land O’ Lakes, a 7-year-old had to get 28 stitches in her face after she was attacked by the neighbor’s pit bull. The family later learned a provision in the lease barred pit bulls from residing at the residence.

A report last year by ABC 10 Action News in Tampa indicated dog bites in Florida cost pet owners some $7 million annually – not including criminal sanctions. Nationwide, one-third of homeowner liability insurance claims are for dog bites, according to the Insurance Information Institute. On average, each of these claims in 2012 cost $30,000, though many policies cover up to $300,000 in damages.

Often, insurers will settle with victims before the case ever makes it to the trial phase.

If you have been injured by a dog bite, contact the Hollander Law Firm at 888-751-7770 for a free and confidential consultation. There is no fee unless we win.

Additional Resources:

Martin v. Christman, June 13, 2014, Vermont Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Proposal Aims to Reduce Cape Coral DUI Accidents, April 24, 2014, West Palm Beach Child Injury Lawyer Blog