TALLAHASSEE — The 1st District Court of Appeal in Florida has reversed a trial court decision, ruling that a dog owner is liable for an injury sustained by a woman volunteering for the Humane Society at a dog park.
The case was on appeal from the Nassau County Circuit Court, which had previously ruled in favor of dog owner Rebecca Berg.
The case stems from an incident at a dog park where Deborah Davison, an animal enthusiast, was volunteering. Berg’s dog was chasing other dogs at the park and collided with Davison, resulting in Davison's leg being broken and requiring extensive medical care, according to information in the ruling. Davison sued Berg under Florida statute that imposes liability on dog owners for damage their dogs cause to other people or animals.
The trial court granted final summary judgment in favor of the dog owner, saying that signs outside the dog park sufficiently warned Davison of the risks inside and that Davison consented to or assumed the risk of potential injuries when she agreed to do the volunteer work.
In reversing the trial court’s decision, the appellate court noted, “Section 767.01 is a strict liability statute which has consistently been construed to virtually make an owner the insurer of the dog’s conduct.” The court concluded that “Dog Park Rules” signs were not equivalent to “Bad Dog” signs that preclude liability.
As for risk of injury, Davison signed a volunteer application form acknowledging the risk of bites, scratches and other injuries and even spoke with the Humane Society about the dangers of dog parks. In reversing the lower court’s decision, the appellate court noted that while there may be evidence to support the conclusion that Davison consented to risk of injury, that actual consent or assumption of the risk defense cannot bar liability.