“Did you ever notice when you blow in a dog’s face he gets mad at you? But when you take him in a car he sticks his head out the window!”
Although dogs share our homes, dogs are still animals and not humans. While they often make wonderful family pets, they can also behave erratically or unpredictably. Occasionally dogs can be almost impossible to control for their owners. It is no wonder dogs frequently cause safety problems for cyclists by attacking, chasing or biting.
Many cyclists feel our legal system always seems to protect others disproportionately. Here’s something that may surprise you – the law in Florida is extremely favorable to anyone victimized by a dog. This includes cyclists. As a cyclist, you have legal rights. Don’t be afraid to use them! Our legal system understands that dogs frequently cause accidents and injuries to occur to humans with whom they interact, and the law protects those victims.When a cyclist is injured because of a dog, the cyclist has a right to receive money as compensation for injuries suffered. This included payment of medical expenses, lost wages, and compensation for the cyclist’s pain or suffering. To be entitled to compensation from the dog’s owner, the cyclist victim only has to prove:
- the dog caused the accident, and
- the defendant owned the dog, and
- the victim was injured
The key is what the cyclist does not have to prove. The cyclist does not have to prove the dog owner acted wrongly or negligently. The victim does not have to prove the dog owner failed to keep control of the dog, failed to use a leash, or failed to supervise the dog reasonably. The victim does not have to prove the dog behaved similarly in the past. The dog owner’s responsibility is absolute. Bottom Line: if the dog causes an accident, the dog owner is responsible for the consequences.
Does it matter if the dog owner lacks the money to be able to compensate the cyclist victim? Often not. Even if the dog owner is wealthy, the most effective way for the cyclist victim to recover compensation is through the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy. If the owner of the dog also owns his/her home, then there is probably a homeowner’s insurance policy in place. The mortgage company will require it. The homeowner’s insurance policy will usually cover any claim regardless of whether the injury occurred on the home’s premises or not. Unfortunately, most apartment dwellers either don’t carry insurance on their apartments or don’t have the financial capability to compensate the victims of their dogs. Most apartment insurance policies don’t cover injuries by dogs.
What should you do if a dog causes you to crash or get injured while you’re out for a training ride? Although you are not required to make a police report, it is a good idea to do so. This way there can be no question that the accident took place. Above all, find out the name and address of the dog owner. If possible, find out if the owner has homeowner insurance and get the insurance company’s name, address, and the policy number. If there is an opportunity, take some photos of the dog- if not at the time of the incident then later on. Contact a reputable attorney who can assist you. Follow the advice given in the “crash tips” link on the Florida Bicycle Association website: www.floridabicycle.org.
I am surprised by the few claims brought by cyclists victimized by dogs. Practically, I can see why lawsuits are not brought by cyclists where the dog owner is unknown or where the dog owner does not have insurance. But claims by injured cyclists against the insured dog owner should be brought. These cyclists deserve compensation and will almost always be successful. Most often, these claims never see a courtroom. Insurance companies tend to be reasonable in paying these claims because they know they will lose in court.
Christopher G. Burns, Esquire
Terrell • Hogan