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Court Discusses “Public Duty” Doctrine in Recent Dog Bite Case

In a recent opinion, a state appellate court determined that the defendant city may be held liable for the wrongful death of a man who was killed after being attacked by several privately owned dogs. The case required the court to discuss the public duty doctrine and apply it to the facts presented. Ultimately, the court determined that the city was not entitled to immunity because a special relationship arose between the plaintiff and the city, giving rise to an obligation to the plaintiff and her husband.

Dog at SunsetThe Facts of the Case

The plaintiff was concerned about several neighborhood dogs that she perceived as dangerous. She called 911 on at least one occasion, and she was transferred to the city’s dog warden. The plaintiff expressed her concerns, and the dog warden told the plaintiff that “the county would take care of it.”

On another occasion, the dog warden went to the dogs’ owner’s home and was approached by one of the dogs as she pulled into the driveway. The dog jumped onto the car, preventing the dog warden from getting out of the vehicle. The dog warden later issued the owner a citation for failing to keep the dog restrained.

Later, the plaintiff’s husband was viciously attacked by the dogs. She filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming that the dog warden was reckless in failing to take action to protect her and her husband from the dogs. The city claimed that it could not be held liable for the wrongful death of the plaintiff’s husband under the public duty doctrine.

The Public Duty Doctrine

Under the public duty doctrine, a government entity cannot be held liable for an injury caused by breach of a duty that is owed to the public as a whole, rather than a specific duty owed to the plaintiff. However, when a special relationship arises between the government entity and the plaintiff, the public duty doctrine does not apply.

The Court’s Decision

The court determined that a special relationship was present between the plaintiff and the city, and the city was not entitled to immunity under the public duty doctrine. The court explained that the plaintiff had called about the dogs in the past, and she was assured that the “county would take care of it.” This, combined with the fact that the dog warden had actual knowledge of the dogs’ dangerousness, gave rise to a special relationship.

The Public Duty Doctrine in Florida

In Florida, lawmakers have abandoned the public duty doctrine in favor of more traditional methods of determining when a government should be granted immunity. Specifically, a government entity is entitled to immunity when carrying out discretionary government functions. Thus, the inquiry is not focused on to whom is owed the duty, but instead on the actions of the government entity or employee.

Have You Been Injured in an Accident Involving a Government Employee?

If you or a loved one has recently been injured in any kind of accident involving a government entity or employee, you may be entitled to monetary compensation. The skilled personal injury attorneys at the South Florida law firm of Cohn & Smith have extensive experience bringing cases against local and state governments, and we know what it takes to be successful on behalf of our injured clients. Call 954-431-8100 today to schedule a free consultation with a dedicated personal injury attorney.

Related Blog Posts:

Summary Judgment in South Florida Premises Liability Cases, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, May 10, 2017.

Florida Appellate Court Discusses When Evidence of Subsequent Remedial Measures Taken by the Defendant May Be Introduced, South Florida Injury Attorney Blog, May 1, 2017.

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