NAVIGATING PENNSYLVANIA’S COMPLEX LAWS IN A DOG ATTACK LAWSUIT
March 1st, 2019 | Ryan M. Molitoris
In the United States, there are about 90 million dogs. More than just pets, they can be important members of a family. They provide comfort, companionship and sometimes even comic relief. Unfortunately, dogs can sometimes become aggressive and bite. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about four and a half million people are bitten by dogs each year. About one million of the bite victims seek medical attention, with 300,000 requiring hospitalization. HKQ Law Personal Injury Attorney Ryan Molitoris notes that “Pennsylvania ranked fourth among states for dog bite claims in 2017.”
Dog bites can sometimes result in serious and even fatal injuries. For small children, dog attacks can be catastrophic.
Common dog bite injuries include:
- Puncture wounds
- Facial injuries
- Eye injuries
- Head and neck Injuries
- Nerve damage
- Broken bones
- Emotional distress
- Diseases (Up to 18% of dog bites become infected with bacteria. Diseases which can be transmitted by dog bites include rabies, pasteurellosis, and tetanus. Bites can also lead to MRSA infections.)
Responsibilities of Dog Owners
Dog owners are responsible for controlling their dogs. The responsibilities are set forth in the confinement provision of Pennsylvania’s dog laws, which states that it shall be unlawful for the owner or keeper of any dog to fail to keep at all times the dog in any of the following manners:
(1) confined within the premises of the owner;
(2) firmly secured by means of a collar and chain or other device so that it cannot stray beyond
the premises on which it is secured; or
(3) under the reasonable control of some person, or when engaged in lawful hunting,
exhibition, performance events or field training.
Additional restrictions are imposed for “dangerous dogs”. Under Pennsylvania law, a dangerous dog is one that has:
(1) Inflicted severe injury on a human being without provocation on public or private property.
(A "severe injury" is any physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery.); or
(2) Killed or inflicted severe injury on a domestic animal, dog or cat without provocation while
off the owner’s property; or
(3) Attacked a human being without provocation; or
(4) Been used in the commission of a crime, including dog fighting.
The dog must also have either or both of the following:
(1) A history of attacking human beings and/or domestic animals, dogs or cats without
(2) A propensity to attack human beings and/or domestic animals, dogs or cats without
provocation. (The propensity to attack may be proven by a single incident.)
The owner of a dangerous dog must meet a myriad of licensing, registration and control requirements.
Provided that the dog hasn’t bitten before, Pennsylvania law provides two different legal remedies. They are dependent upon the severity of the injury. For bite victims who are not severely injured, damages are limited to medical expenses. Severely injured victims can make a claim for all damages suffered, including:
- Lost wages
- Emotional harm
- Medical expenses
- Permanent disfigurement
If the attack involves a “dangerous dog”, the victim may be able to recover compensation for all damages (including punitive damages) by proving three things:
- The dog caused the victim to suffer an injury
- The owner was aware of the dog's history of injuring people or engaging in aggressive behavior
- The victim was not trespassing or doing something to provoke the dog
As is the case with any personal injury case, the plaintiff must prove that the dog owner was negligent. However, if it is shown that the dog owner violated Pennsylvania's confinement statute or dangerous dog provisions, damages may be recovered under a theory of negligence per se.
In some instances, there need not be a bite to create liability for the owner. If a person is injured while getting away from the dog or is knocked down by an aggressive dog, he or she could still be entitled to money for the injuries.
Dog owners can raise two defenses: provocation and trespass. If the injured person provoked the dog, the owner may not be held liable. In addition, the owner may not be liable if the injured person was committing a "willful trespass" at the time of the attack by the dog.
Defendants other than owner
Animal owners are not the only people who can be liable for dog attacks. Other possible defendants include parents of a minor dog owner, animal keepers (e.g., kennels, animal sitters), property owners and landlords.
If you or a family member were the victim of a dog attack, seek medical care. Puncture wounds can lead to infections and disease. A seemingly minor injury can result in serious complications.
If you are a victim of a dog attack that has resulted in serious injuries, call HKQ Law at (800) 760-1529 to schedule a no-obligation consultation with one of our personal injury attorneys.