Unfortunately, dog bite attacks are very common and can result in expensive medical bills, physical damage, and emotional scarring. Dog bite victims can seek recovery from dog owners in multiple ways dependent upon the surrounding circumstances and the state the attack occurs in.
If you are bitten by a dog in Pennsylvania, there are a variety of factors that affect recovery. There is not a specific dog bite statute that assigns liability, but there are other applicable laws that can be invoked including the confinement of dogs statute & dangerous dog statute. If neither of those two statutes applies, then a victim may seek recovery under common law liability and common law negligence.
Confinement of Dogs Statute. Pennsylvania law requires dog owners to have reasonable control over their canine companions at all times. The law requires owners to confine their dogs on their premises, and restrain their dogs with a collar, chain, or other device to prevent the dog from straying. If a victim can prove that a dog owner was violating this statute when the attack occurred, the victim may be able to recover under a theory of negligence per se.
Negligence per se is a legal doctrine which provides that an act is considered negligent because it violates a statute. In order to prove negligence per se, the victim must show that the dog owner violated the confinement statute, and that the violation caused the kind of harm the statute was designed to prevent.
Dangerous Dog Statute. Pennsylvania imposes strict liability for damages where the dog is categorized as a dangerous dog, if the injury is severe, and/or if the dog has previously engaged in dangerous behavior. If a dog that is subject to the dangerous dog statute bites a person, and the victim can prove the dog is subject to the statute, then the injured party can recover full compensation.
This statute defines a dangerous dog as:
- A dog that has done one or more of the following:
- A dog that has attacked a person without provocation;
- A dog that has been used in the commission of a crime;
- A dog that has killed or inflicted severe injury on a domestic animal without being provoked, and off the owner’s property;
- A dog that has inflicted severe injury on a person without provocation.
- A dog that has either or both of the following:
- A history of attacking people and/or domestic animals without provocation;
- A dangerous propensity to attack people and/or domestic animals without provocation- this can be shown by any of the bullet points listed in #1.
The statute defines a “severe” injury as a physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations that requires multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery. If a victim does have a severe injury, the statute imposes strict liability upon the dog owner who must fully compensate the victim for their medical bills.
Under common law, a dog owner will be held liable for all damages when:
- a person is severely injured in an attack,
- if a person is attacked by a dog that is known to have dangerous propensities, or
- if the attack was a result of a dog owner’s negligent conduct.
If the dog has bitten a person and/or domestic animal before, then it is known to have dangerous propensities. If the dog has not bitten before, recovery is based on whether the injury was severe and/or whether the dog owner acted negligently. If the injury is classified as severe, then the victim can make a legal claim against the dog owner for medical expenses and other damages. If the injury is not severe they can still make a claim to seek limited recovery under common law, or, if the circumstances permit, a negligence claim may be applicable.
Dog owners have a duty to society to act as a reasonably prudent person and care for their pets accordingly in order to protect society from harm. If a dog owner’s conduct breached that societal duty and the attack was a reasonably foreseeable consequence of doing so, then the dog owner may be held liable for damages resulting from an attack under Pennsylvania law.
For more help with a Pennsylvania dog bite claim, talk to a lawyer.