Pennsylvania doesn't have a one-bite rule; it follows a strict liability dog bite statute. According to this law, the dog owner is liable for their dog's aggressive actions regardless of its history of violent behavior. You don't need to prove the owner's fault if a dog bites you. It's automatic.
According to the strict liability statute, there are some limitations on what damages you can recover. The dog owner is liable for all bite-related medical expenses. However, if you want compensation for other damages, you must prove negligence.
If you have been in a recent dog bite incident, reach out to a dog bite injury lawyer. Let's take a closer look at Pennsylvania's dog bite laws.
PA Dog Bite Law and the Strict Liability Statute
Strict liability for a dog bite means that the dog owner is liable for the dog's aggression, even if they didn't expect it to occur.
For example, even if a dog has never demonstrated aggressive behavior in the past, the owner should still take precautions to prevent a potential bite. If the bite occurs anyway, they are liable for the event.
The logic behind the strict liability law dictates that all dogs are predators with the potential to inflict harm on human beings. Even if the pet is calm, friendly, and happy at home, it can still attack when it is startled, hurt, or believes its owner or property is in danger. If an incident occurs, a dog owner may have liability insurance that can help compensate for injuries.
Exceptions to Pennsylvania Dog Bite Laws
There are some exceptions to the strict liability dog bite statute in Pennsylvania.
You may not collect compensation if you:
- Intentionally provoke the dog (by attacking the owner, startling the dog in its sleep, taking away its food or toys, abusing it).
- Trespass or otherwise break the law at the time of the bite.
If a service dog or a police work dog attacks you when performing its duties, you may not be able to obtain compensation. However, if the dog wasn't on duty at the attack, it's possible to recover damages.
Instead of the strict liability statute for dog bites, some states have a one-bite rule. This rule states that dog owners are liable for bite-related damages only if the pet has a history of violence.
This rule doesn't mean that a dog gets one penalty-free bite.
The demonstration of violence can include:
- Growling aggressively
- Knocking people down
- Pulling at clothes
If the dog behaves aggressively, the dog owner should know that it might inflict injury. However, proving that an owner knew about their pet's violent behavior can be challenging.
If the previous victim didn't file a claim, you must conduct an in-depth investigation to find related evidence in your dog bite lawsuit.
Limitations of the Strict Liability Rule in Pennsylvania
Unlike states that follow strict liability dog bite rules, Pennsylvania limits the type of damages you can receive. The dog owner is only liable for covering your injury-related medical expenses.
For pain and suffering and property damage, you cannot obtain compensation. To recover these damages, a dog bite victim must prove negligence on the part of the dog's owner.
To prove negligence in a dog bite case in Pennsylvania, you must prove:
- The dog owner was aware of their dog's ability to exhibit vicious behavior (similar to the one-bite situation).
- The dog owner didn't control the dog properly.
The first point can be tough to prove since you must provide evidence about the dog owner's knowledge. It could include witness testimonies, camera recordings, and previous victims' claims. However, such evidence isn't always readily available and can be hard to obtain.
A more common way to demonstrate the homeowner's negligence is to show that they didn't restrain their dog properly.
According to Pennsylvania's dog laws, the dog owner must keep their pet under control and prevent it from running at large. Dogs are personal property, so owners are liable for damages caused by their dogs.
According to the Pennsylvania confinement statute, if a dog bites or attacks a human being, it must be confined in quarters. It can stay in an area approved by the investigating officer. The isolation lasts for at least ten days.
If a Pennsylvania dog owner doesn't comply with the isolation requirements and their dog bites again, they are negligent.
When to File a Dog Bite Lawsuit for Severe Injuries
If the dog's attack caused severe injuries (broken bones or serious lacerations that require cosmetic surgery or numerous sutures), you could file a claim to recover medical expenses and other damages, such as pain and suffering and property damage.
You can only claim compensation for medical expenses if your injuries aren't severe.
Dangerous Dog Laws
Pennsylvania has particular laws that apply to dangerous dogs, or dogs with a documented history of violence or aggression. If a dangerous dog bites you, you have an opportunity to obtain compensation for all damages.
A dangerous dog under Pennsylvania law has, without provocation:
- Killed or inflicted severe injuries on people (on public or private property).
- Killed or inflicted a severe injury on a domestic animal or pet (dog or cat) off the owner's property.
- Attacked a person
- Participated in a crime (a person used the dog to commit a crime)
It also needs a:
- History of attacking people, domestic animals, or pets without provocation.
- Tendency to attack people, domestic animals, or pets without provocation
The owners of dangerous dogs need to:
- Keep the dog confined and post proper signs (e.g., “Beware of the dangerous dog”) on the property
- Walk the dog with a muzzle
- Register the dog with the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement
- Purchase liability insurance of at least $50,000.
A dangerous dog can inflict severe injuries. If this happens, the dog owner may face criminal charges. Meanwhile, the dog could be subject to euthanasia.
Statute of Limitations in a Dog Bite Case
If you plan to file a lawsuit against the dog owner to obtain compensation, you have a limited amount of time to do it.
According to section 5524 of Title 42 of the Statutes of Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations on personal injury cases, including dog bites, is two years.
This limit means that you have two years from the date of the incident to file a lawsuit against a negligent dog owner.
While two years seems long, waiting until the statute of limitations is almost up can hurt your case significantly. During that time, you may lose an opportunity to collect important evidence or reach eyewitnesses.
If you plan to recover damages by proving the dog owner's negligence, contact an attorney and start legal action as soon as possible. This step can improve the outcome of your case.
Evidence in a Dog Bite Case
To prove negligence in a dog bite case, you need high-quality evidence.
This evidence includes:
- Camera recordings - If a dog bit you on the street, you can ask the nearby property owners for their camera footage. Store and house cameras often cover large areas around the property.
- Witness testimonies - Eyewitness testimonies can be vital in proving the dog owner's negligence. They can also help you show which dog bit you. This evidence may be necessary if the dog is at large.
- Photos of your injuries - One way to prove the extent of your injuries is to provide photos. If you sustain severe injuries, you need evidence of their severity to recover damages other than medical expenses.
- Torn clothing and broken devices - Torn clothes and smashed cellphones are excellent evidence in a dog bite case.
- Medical bills - All bills, doctors' reports, and prescriptions are evidence in your dog bite case. You must prove that you are entitled to a specific amount.
You may also need to hire expert witnesses:
- Medical professionals, to testify to the extent of your injuries and the potential time and effort for treatment and recovery.
- Mental health professionals, to describe your condition and predict the time and recovery costs.
- Canine professionals, to explain that the dog owner should have known about the possibility of their pet's violent behavior.
Finding and hiring these witnesses can be time-consuming and costly. Meanwhile, some evidence may hurt your case instead of helping it.
That's why some dog-bite witnesses prefer working with attorneys who know how to collect, prepare, and present evidence and witness testimonies.
What if the Dog Owner Doesn’t Have Insurance?
Dog bite insurance is part of the homeowner's or renter's insurance. However, a homeowner can refuse to pay for the dog bite part of the insurance.
If a dog bites someone once, the insurance company can refuse to cover it, and the owner would need to buy special liability insurance. The company can also refuse to cover potentially dangerous dog breeds such as pit bulls and Rottweilers.
If the negligent dog owner doesn't have liability insurance or their insurance limit is lower than your damages, you could go to court and sue the owner directly.
In court, you must present your case to the judge and the jury. The case will proceed to trial unless the owner offers you a settlement.
In some cases, it may not be reasonable to pursue the dog owner in court. For example, if the owner is a retired citizen living off social security payments, they are unlikely to cover your damages. Speak to a lawyer to determine whether you need to go to court.
Damages You Can Seek for Dog Bites
If you sustain moderate injuries in a dog bite case, you can try to recover compensation for medical expenses.
These expenses usually include:
- Medical bills
- Surgery costs
- Recovery costs
- At-home therapy
You can recover past, current, and future medical expenses if you have sufficient evidence and obtain expert witness testimony. These expenses can include cosmetic surgery that may be necessary to avoid disfigurement.
In case you sustain severe injuries or prove the dog owner's negligence, you can try to recover other damages, including:
When a dog attacks you, you can sustain property damage that may include:
- Torn clothes
- Broken devices (smartphone, laptop)
- Broken bicycle
If you wore expensive clothes and rode a sports bicycle, you could incur significant repair and replacement expenses. If you can back the costs with evidence, the dog owner should cover them.
Pain and Suffering
Consequences like emotional anguish, pain, loss of quality of life, and loss of consortium are common in a dog bite case. After an attack, many children and adults suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health issues. Meanwhile, severe injuries that cause disfigurement can be highly traumatic for the victim.
Proving pain and suffering may be somewhat more challenging than economic damages, such as medical expenses. However, solid evidence that includes doctors' reports, expert witness testimonies, photos, and journals can help you obtain this compensation.
The average cost of dog bite claims is around $50,000.
Your compensation depends on many factors, including:
- Your ability to prove negligence
- The extent of your injuries
- Insurance limits
- Evidence quality
If you pursue the case independently, you are less likely to recover fair damages than dog bite victims who work with attorneys.
What a Dog Bite Attorney Can Do
A dog bite attorney can help you get the money you deserve by:
- Investigating the case
- Finding the dog owner
- Researching dog attack history
- Preparing and filing documents on time
- Collecting, vetting, and presenting evidence
- Negotiating with the insurance company
- Taking your case to court
Even though Pennsylvania doesn't have a one-bite rule, its strict liability law has limitations. If you want to obtain reasonable compensation for your injuries, pain and suffering, and property loss, consider working with a Pennsylvania personal injury lawyer near you. Contact us today to receive more information on how we can assist.