Pets make us happy, relieve our stress, lower our anxiety and help keep us active. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association’s annual survey, more than 71 million homes in the United States include one or more pets. We own 88 million cats, 75 million dogs, 24 million small animals, 14 million horses and 13 million reptiles.
With so many pets sharing our homes and neighborhoods, animal attacks have become more common. Dog bites are by far the most common type of attack. About 4.7 million people are the victims of dog bites each year, most of them children.
If you or your child are seriously injured from a dog bite, we can help you get the compensation that you’ll need in order to pay for medical treatment of your injuries and reconstructive surgery, if necessary. Our personal injury attorneys will provide a free evaluation of the facts of your case to determine whether it is one that we can help you with.
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When Is a Dog “Dangerous?”
Pennsylvania’s Dog Bite Law is a group of statutes that regulate dogs and provide remedies for any harm that they cause. Under the law, the owner or keeper of a biting or attacking dog is legally liable for payment of all of the victim’s medical costs, explicitly so: “Any cost to the victim for medical treatment resulting from an attacking or biting dog must be paid fully by the owner or keeper of the dog.”
According to Pennsylvania’s Dangerous Dog Laws, a dog is a “dangerous dog” if:
- The dog has attacked or injured a person, without provocation, on public or private property
- The dog has killed or injured a domestic animal without provocation, while off the owner’s property
- The dog was used to commit a crime
What Constitutes Owner Negligence?
Most states have laws that make dog owners strictly liable for all dog bites — which means that if a dog bites you, the dog’s owner is responsible. However, Pennsylvania requires the injured victim to show either that the dog was vicious, the dog’s owner was negligent or the dog’s owner was responsible for the bite or attack by violating the state’s leash law.
Other factors may come into play as well. According to the ASPCA, 70 percent of dog bites occur because a dog isn’t neutered — a decrease from just 14 years ago, when the number stood at 97 percent before the neutering link was widely known.
Another consideration is the dog’s relationship to people other than its owner. The ASPCA has found that 78 percent of dogs are kept to guard, fight, breed or for other non-pet-related reasons. These uses often see them chained or tethered, a situation that the CDC says increases their propensity for biting by a factor of nearly 3 over dogs better integrated into their households.
In every state, a dog owner will be held responsible if he or she knew before the biting incident that his or her dog had a tendency to bite people without provocation. In Pennsylvania, the injured party must also show that the dog owner made some kind of mistake, such as:
- Failing to keep a dog restrained
- Failing to warn others of a dog’s known dangerous propensity or aggressive disposition
- Failing to keep a dog known to be dangerous away from others
Pennsylvania is a Strict Liability State
In a 1982 case, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled that if a dog owner is found to have violated Pennsylvania’s dog confinement law, the owner is liable for any injuries that result, even if the owner had no way to know that the dog would act aggressively or had ever acted aggressively before.
In a 1999 case, the high court held that the dog’s owner is liable if the dog injures a person without provocation, on public or private property, even if the dog has no history or propensity of attacking people or other animals.
What both these cases have in common is the application of “strict liability.” In “strict liability” dog bite law, a dog’s owner is responsible for injuries the dog causes, even if the dog has never bitten a person or acted aggressively before, and even if the owner had no idea the dog would bite or act aggressively. This does not necessarily mean that the owner is responsible for other damages.
Are Dogs that Bite Euthanized?
If you are hesitating to take legal action over a dog bite for fear the dog will be put down, in most cases you can rest easy. Pennsylvania law allows animal control to assess the situation and make sure the dog is not a danger to others. If it has no history of aggression or violence, it will usually be returned to its owner.
In rare cases, the dog will be euthanized. This action is only untaken if the dog is determined to be aggressive and have a high probability of biting another person.
Defenses in a Pennsylvania Dog Bite Case
A Pennsylvania dog owner typically has two defenses to a dog bite claim: provocation and trespassing. Pennsylvania’s dog bite laws specify that in order for the owner to be held liable for injuries, the dog must have caused injury “without provocation.”
If the dog owner can show that the injured person provoked the dog, the owner may not be held liable. In addition, an owner may not be liable if the injured person was trespassing on the owner’s property at the time of the bite. Pennsylvania’s dog bite laws do not apply if the injured person was committing a “willful trespass” at the time of the injury.
When to Consult with an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
We typically do not handle “minor” dog bite cases. Our background is in catastrophic personal injury and medical malpractice cases. We use this experience to litigate cases on behalf of victims who have been severely injured or require extensive medical treatment, and for families who have lost loved ones due to fatal dog attacks.
We take on dog bite cases which result in severe injury — any physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery. Injury victims can recover full compensation for all of the harm endured, including pain, suffering, disfigurement, anxiety, loss of income and future earning potential, and all else.
If you or a loved one has suffered a dog bite injury or animal attack because of another person’s negligence, you have rights that entitle you to financial compensation for you or a loved one’s injuries. Our team of lawyers at McEldrew Young Purtell have specialized knowledge and experience in handling claims involving dog bite injuries or animal attacks. Don’t hesitate to contact our team today by filling out our form or calling 1-866-333-7715.