We are always searching for new ways and methods to protect pet owners from excessive liability for the actions of their animals.
Jacksonville Attorney David M. Goldman regularly writes his Florida Estate Planning Blog.
He recently had a very interesting post regarding the twists and turns of Florida Trust Law and the liability of pet owners.
He story and reasoning follow:
..."Seven weeks ago, I got a new puppy. I was thinking of a way to protect myself from Florida's Strict Liability for Dog Bites. Most states have a one free bite rule, but Florida does not and makes the owner of the Dog liable for all damage by the dog from the first bite.
In walks the Florida Revocable Trust. I began thinking that if you set up a separate revocable trust that owned the dog, you could transfer the liability of the dog's future actions to the revocable trust.
I began reading the Florida Statutes and sure enough the statute states that the "owner" is the party liable. Figuring that this must be too easy, I kept reading. It seems that when the state creates statutes, the often hide the real details in some other part of the statute. Sure enough after a few minutes I found that "Owner" as defined in the statute means any person, firm, corporation, or organization possessing, harboring, keeping, or having control or custody of an animal or, if the animal is owned by a person under the age of 18, that person's parent or guardian.
So while the trust would be liable as the owner, so would the person who the animal was staying with and the person keeping the animal, and the person in control or custody of the animal at the time of the attack.
So what did I learn from this exercise? You should be very careful when offering to take care of someone's pet while they are out of town as the person in control and / or custody is just a liable as the person or entity that owns the animal. More over your homeowners insurance may cover your liability as an owner, but I am not sure if they would cover damage caused by a pet that you did not own.
The only other way to protect yourself from liability is to have good insurance and / or protect your other assets..."
Some thoughts to ponder from Mr. Goldman.
Talk with your attorney and insurance broker if you are a pet owner in Florida.
Protect yourself and your pet.