final until disposition of any timely and authorized motion
under Fla. R. App. P. 9.330 or 9.331.
appeal from the Circuit Court for Nassau County. Steven M.
Jeffrey J. Humphries of Morgan & Morgan, Jacksonville,
William H. Davis of Dobson, Davis & Smith, Tallahassee,
Davison, an avid animal enthusiast, volunteered at her local
Humane Society to help take care of a dog park. Three years
later, Rebecca Berg's canine companion was chasing other
dogs at the park when it collided with Davison, resulting in
Davison suffering a broken leg and requiring extensive
medical care. Davison filed an action against Berg under
section 767.01, Florida Statutes (2014), which imposes
liability on dog owners for damage their dogs cause to other
persons or animals. The trial court granted final summary
judgment in favor of Berg on two equally dispositive bases:
1) the signs outside the dog park sufficiently warned Davison
of the risks inside, and 2) Davison actually consented to, or
assumed the risk of, potential injuries. We agree with
Davison that the trial court erred in granting summary
judgment, and reverse.
767.01 is a strict liability statute which has consistently
been construed to virtually make an owner the insurer of the
dog's conduct." Jones v. Utica Mut. Ins.
Co., 463 So.2d 1153, 1156 (Fla. 1985) (citing Donner
v. Arkwright-Boston Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co., 358 So.2d 21,
23 (Fla. 1978) ("[T]he Florida Legislature enacted
statutes designed to obviate the element of scienter, and
make the dog owner the insurer against damage done by his
dog." (footnote omitted))).
only total defense to liability available in a section 767.01
action is for a dog owner to have "displayed in a
prominent place on his or her premises a sign easily readable
including the words 'Bad Dog.'" § 767.04,
Fla. Stat. Berg presented evidence regarding two
signs prominently displayed at the dog park entrance, titled
"Dog Park Rules." The two signs respectively listed
ten and eleven rules for entrance to the dog park. The rules
noted that park use is at "the dog owner's
risk." Dogs "exhibiting aggressive behavior"
were not permitted in the park, and "rough play and
chasing" were not allowed if any dogs or owners were
uncomfortable with the behavior. One sign added an eleventh
rule stating that visitors enter the dog park at their own
risk. Davison had seen and understood these signs prior to
the incident at issue.
trial court found that Davison was aware of the two signs,
which adequately advised her that she entered the dog park at
her own risk. However, the purpose of the statutory sign
requirement is to give "genuine, effective and bona
fide" notice "that a bad dog is on the
premises." Carroll v. Moxley, 241 So.2d 681,
683 (Fla. 1970); see also Romfh v. Berman, 56 So.2d
127, 129 (Fla. 1951), overruled in part by Sweet v.
Josephson, 173 So.2d 444 (Fla. 1965) ("The sole
purpose of the legend was to put one entering the premises on
notice that there were dangerous dogs on the place.").
"Not every sign, even if seen, is sufficient to put a
potential victim on notice of the risk he assumes by being
present on the premises." Carroll, 241 So.2d at
683. The signs, which also contain rules regarding digging
holes and disposing of dog waste, are not designed to warn
visitors not to enter the dog park due to the presence of
dangerous dogs. Cf. Romfh, 56 So.2d at 129 (holding
that "Beware of Dogs" sign is equivalent to
"Bad Dog" sign and precludes liability). We
conclude that the trial court erred in finding that the Dog
Park Rules signs were sufficiently equivalent to "Bad
Dog" signs to preclude liability under section 767.01.
trial court also found actual consent or assumption of risk
on Davison's part, noting that it was "about as
strong as we could ever have."
Kilpatrick v. Sklar, 548 So.2d 215, 216 (Fla. 1989),
a police officer climbed over a home's backyard fence
while investigating a possible burglary, was startled by the
homeowners' four dogs as he crept through the backyard,
and "impaled himself in the calf" while attempting
to jump back over the fence in retreat. The Florida Supreme
Court held that the Fireman's Rule-which precludes
policemen and firemen from recovering from a property owner
for injuries arising from their professional duties-was
inapplicable, noting that "there are no common law
defenses to the statutory cause of action based on sections
767.01 and 767.04, Florida Statutes (1981)."
Id. at 218. This rule has been applied consistently
by the courts, without regard for lack of negligence or other
reasonable common law arguments. See Huie v.
Wipperfurth, 632 So.2d 1109, 1112 (Fla. 5th DCA 1994),
approved, 654 So.2d 116 (Fla. 1995); Freire v.
Leon, 584 So.2d 98, 99 (Fla. 3d DCA 1991).
summary judgment evidence demonstrated that Davison was aware
that she could be injured in the course of her volunteer
work. She signed a volunteer application form acknowledging
that she could be exposed to bites, scratches, and other
injuries. One year prior to her injury, she watched a dog
collide with another individual, which also caused a broken
leg. Following that incident, she spoke multiple times with
others at the Humane Society about the dangers of being
inside the dog park with dogs running around and chasing each
other, but continued to volunteer. Finally, ...