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Am I legally responsible to pay for my neighbor's dog cremation after an attack?

Q:

My father had an incident where one of our two dogs broke his leash and ran towards another dog. My father ran after our dog, which he noticed was in a playful mood with the neighbor's dog, unfortunately they got aggressive and when my father tried to get him off, our dog killed the neighbor's dogs. Cops were called, it was reported and the neighbors asked that we put our dog down which we did.

Without any notice or agreement, the neighbor is insisting that we pay for the cremation or that he will take us to court. Am I legally responsible even though no agreement was made?

A:

This is a tragic story all around. When a dog harms or kills another companion animal, a few legal issues can arise. First, there is the issue of potential liability of the ‘owner’ and person in charge of the animal who harmed or killed another animal. Sometimes, the person whose animal was harmed or killed will sue the ‘owner’ of the animal who caused the harm/death and the person who was in charge of the animal at the time of the incident. In these lawsuits, the ‘owner’ of the injured or killed dog generally seeks monetary compensation. State laws differ on when an ‘owner’ can be held legally accountable for the actions of his/her dog. For example, in some states the ‘owner’ will not be held liable unless it can be shown that the ‘owner’ knew of his/her dog’s dangerous propensities prior to the attack. In other states, known as ‘strict liability’ states (including Florida) a dog ‘owner’ can be held liable for damage done by his/her dog (with exceptions, such as for provoked attacks) even though the 'owner' had no prior knowledge of his/her dog's dangerous propensities.

In addition to bringing civil lawsuits, states and municipalities have dangerous dog laws. These laws vary but generally provide that if a dog is determined (after a hearing or by stipulation) to be dangerous, the ‘owner’ of such dog can be ordered to do certain things (usually depending on the seriousness of the attack), such as muzzling the dog on public property, procuring liability insurance, keeping the dog confined in an enclosure, having the dog spayed/neutered, or having the dog euthanized. Euthanasia is often limited to those situations in which very serious injury was caused to a human being and even then, only after a hearing with appeal rights. There are provisions in the laws which state that a dog will not be declared dangerous if the attack was provoked ---such as when the dog attacks someone who is unlawfully on one’s property or who is attempting to harm the dog or his/her family member. Important to note is that some dangerous dog laws are not applicable at all to dog on dog/cat attacks.

It is really unclear why you killed your dog instead of taking reasonable precautions to ensure that your dog would not harm other animals in the future. Keep in mind also that chaining dogs can cause dogs to become frustrated, lonely, and aggressive. Given Florida’s strict liability law, a court could find you liable for your dog’s actions and may include cremation expenses in a damage award.


Submitted by Anonymous
Answered by Elinor Molbegott

 

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