There is an interesting law that has been proposed in Miami-Dade to require online registry of “dangerous dogs.” The law would require registration of any dogs or other pets that attack or bite people in the same way that sex offenders register to public disclosure. The registry could have significant implications for tort law and the liability for dog bites. One commissioner is even proposing a dog mug shot gallery.
The failure to register would produce a potential fine of $1,000. It would also require owners of dogs designated as “dangerous” to obtain $50,000 worth of insurance.
Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz wants to add a canine mug shot and bio to detail the dog’s history of bite or chasing people in a “menacing fashion.”
A dog would be considered dangerous if it attacks another animal or a human without provocation and causes severe injury or death, or if it approaches a human in a menacing fashion or apparent attitude of attack.
The implications for tort law would be interesting.
The common law treats these cases under a strict liability standard. An owner is strictly viable for a dog with known vicious tendencies. This is sometimes called (inartfully) the “one free bite rule” since after the first bite, an owner has obvious knowledge. However, it sometimes does not require a bite to have such knowledge. Indeed, these laws can serve as such warnings.
One of the most infamous cases involved two lawyers. Lawyers Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel were successfully prosecuted after their huge “Presa Canario” dogs mauled and killed neighbor, Diane Whipple, in the hallway of her San Francisco apartment building in January 2001. Whipple was bitten 77 times and the dogs nearly severed her vertebrae.
Jurors found Marjorie Knoller’s husband, Robert Noel, guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and found Knoller guilty of second-degree murder.
The common law rule also applies to wild animals. Defining some animals as wild can be done with reference to statutes or the lack of animus revertendi (the habit of return). The most common category in the United States is the possession of wolves or part-wolf animals as pets.
The registry would create a regulatory listing of animals with dangerous propensities — making the owners more vulnerable to strict liability claims. Florida has an interesting statute on dog bites that imposes strict liability but folds in contributory fault as a matter of proximate causation.
767.04 Dog owner’s liability for damages to persons bitten.—The owner of any dog that bites any person while such person is on or in a public place, or lawfully on or in a private place, including the property of the owner of the dog, is liable for damages suffered by persons bitten, regardless of the former viciousness of the dog or the owners’ knowledge of such viciousness. However, any negligence on the part of the person bitten that is a proximate cause of the biting incident reduces the liability of the owner of the dog by the percentage that the bitten person’s negligence contributed to the biting incident. A person is lawfully upon private property of such owner within the meaning of this act when the person is on such property in the performance of any duty imposed upon him or her by the laws of this state or by the laws or postal regulations of the United States, or when the person is on such property upon invitation, expressed or implied, of the owner. However, the owner is not liable, except as to a person under the age of 6, or unless the damages are proximately caused by a negligent act or omission of the owner, if at the time of any such injury the owner had displayed in a prominent place on his or her premises a sign easily readable including the words “Bad Dog.” The remedy provided by this section.
If the law spreads across the country, it could create a regulatory shortcut on strict liability. It is not the convention standard of care statute, but rather an actual regulatory classification related directly to cause of action. A court would have to decide whether the registry is material to the claim and subject to disclosure before the jury.
Source: Miami Herald