In Pennsylvania, individuals who suffer injuries when a dog bites them, or who sustain financial losses when a dog destroys their property, generally have the right to take legal action against any parties at fault for the dog’s behavior.
In most (but not all) cases, you have two years from the date a dog bite occurred in Philadelphia to file a lawsuit for damages.
However, you may need to take action far more quickly than that to preserve and protect your rights. That’s why it is always important to seek the help of a Philadelphia dog bite attorney right away after suffering any dog-related injury.
In this article, we take a closer look at the legal rules and practical considerations affecting when and how you might pursue compensation for injuries you suffered when a dog bit you in Philadelphia.
The Statute of Limitation for Philadelphia Dog Bites, Explained
Pennsylvania law sets a time limit, known as a statute of limitation, on filing a lawsuit for damages caused by a dog bite. The statute of limitation is not a suggested date for filing a lawsuit. It is an outside time limit on taking action, after which you lose your rights to receive compensation.
For most cases in Philadelphia involving a dog bite that injured a person and/or that person’s personal property (other than livestock), the statute of limitation for filing a lawsuit is two years.
If, however, a government entity (such as a police department) owned or controlled the dog that bit the victim or injured the victim’s property, then the statute of limitations for taking legal action is just six months. And, if you wish to make a claim to the Commonwealth’s Dog Law Restricted Account for damage done by a dog to livestock, then you must file your request within a mere five days of discovering the damage.
The law contains some exceptions that may extend these time limits, such as when a dog-bite victim is a minor or suffers from a mental incapacity. However, in the vast majority of cases, victims of dog bites in Philadelphia should seek legal advice from a skilled dog bite attorney right away to make sure they do not miss an important deadline.
Actions After a Philly Dog Bite That Can Protect Your Health and Rights
Knowing and abiding by the statute of limitation for a lawsuit represents just one aspect of the process of securing compensation for your Philadelphia dog bite-related injuries and losses.
The actions you take after suffering injuries and/or financial losses in a Philly dog attack, but before you file a lawsuit, can also have an impact on your health and legal rights. Let’s look at four important steps to consider taking in the moments, days, and weeks after suffering injuries or losses from a dog bite.
Seeking Medical Care
This is, by far, the most important step you can take after getting bitten by a dog in Philadelphia. Dog bites can cause a wide range of potentially serious, and even deadly, injuries. They can also transmit rabies, an infectious disease that is nearly 100 percent fatal in humans if not treated immediately before symptoms develop. Wash the wound immediately, apply first aid, and see a doctor right away if the bite breaks the skin/draws blood.
Identifying the Dog’s Owner
Pennsylvania law and Philadelphia ordinances require all dogs to be licensed and vaccinated for rabies, and to wear a license tag on their collars at all times. A dog’s tag(s) will often give the owner’s name and address. At a minimum, it must identify where and when the dog received a rabies vaccination.
With this information in hand, it’s usually straightforward to identify the dog’s owner. Try to do so as soon as possible. The owner may have a legal liability to you for the harm caused by the bite, so you want to know who it is. The owner will also likely give you additional information about the dog’s vaccination history and any potential exposures to rabid animals.
Reporting the Bite
The law does not strictly require you to report a dog bite to Philadelphia animal control or the police, but you might want to. Local and state animal control officers investigate and keep track of dog bites to prevent the spread of rabies and to protect the public from dangerous animals. Reporting a bite—especially one that draws blood—to your local authorities will quarantine the dog until authorities can determine whether the dog may have infected you.
If you are a dog lover worried about the welfare of the dog that bit you, then you can rest easy. Reporting a dog bite in Philadelphia does not automatically lead to the destruction of the dog. It just keeps you and others safe until you know for sure that the dog is not a threat to public health.
Filing a Dangerous Dog Complaint
Taking this step can serve several purposes.
- It can force the owner to keep the public safe from the dog by registering the dog with the authorities, keeping the dog confined, and buying insurance to protect against harm inflicted by the dog in the future.
- It can subject the owner to criminal liability if the dog attacks someone again.
- It can, potentially, go a long way in establishing the owner’s legal liability to you for damages.
We strongly encourage anyone who wants to file a dangerous dog complaint to speak first with an experienced Philadelphia dog bite attorney. Why? The evidence presented in a dangerous dog proceeding, and the outcome of the proceeding, can have a significant impact on a dog bite victim’s rights. For that reason, it pays to have a skilled lawyer guiding your decisions and actions.
What to Know About Legal Liability for Your Dog Bite Injuries and Losses
Knowing your statute of limitation deadlines, and taking steps to protect your health and rights after a dog bite in Philly, all lead in the direction of eventually filing a lawsuit seeking compensation for your dog bite injuries and losses.
Some states make establishing legal liability for harm you suffer from a dog bite a relatively straightforward proposition. They have clear laws that set out who owes you compensation for dog bite injuries, and a relatively simple process for obtaining it.
Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is not one of those states.
In Pennsylvania, a somewhat convoluted set of laws and court decisions offers only rough guidance about how to obtain compensation for dog bite injuries. Here are the basics, such as they are.
Strict Liability for Medical Costs, Only
By law, “[a]ny 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.”
This is a strict liability law. As a Philly dog bite victim, the dog's owner or keeper bears your medical costs for treating the bite wound and any other injuries you suffered.
It does not matter how reasonable or unreasonable that person’s actions were in connection with the attack. They owe you compensation for your medical costs, no ifs, ands, or buts.
Pennsylvania law defines the dog’s owner or keeper as anyone who has “a right of property in such dog, and every person who keeps or harbors such dog or has it in his care, and every person who permits such dog to remain on or about any premises occupied by him.”
So, liability could fall on not just the actual owner, but also a dog walker, dog sitter, or commercial kennel owner.
Negligence Liability for All Other Damages
Medical costs, however, represent just one among many types of harm that you can suffer when a dog bites you.
You might also:
- Lose wages or income because you miss work due to your injury;
- Incur other, non-medical expenses in connection with the attack, such as the cost of repairing or replacing damaged property; and
- Endure pain, suffering, and a diminished quality of life due to your injury.
Pennsylvania law does not make a dog’s owner or keeper strictly liable to you for these damages, even though they often go hand-in-hand with the medical costs of treating a dog bite.
Instead, to obtain compensation for any damages other than your medical costs, your lawyer must prove, using evidence, that the owner, keeper, or someone else, acted unreasonably in causing or failing to prevent the dog attack. In other words, your injuries and losses resulted from the owner’s, keeper’s, or someone else’s negligenc
Now, here’s where the law gets tricky.
In Pennsylvania, here’s how your lawyer might try to prove that someone’s negligence caused your dog bite injuries.
- Your lawyer could try to prove ordinary negligence, which means using evidence to show that someone had a duty to act reasonably in controlling the dog that bit you, that the person did not act reasonably, and that you suffered injuries as a result. Taking this approach means explaining why someone’s actions were unreasonably dangerous to you.
- Your lawyer could also try to prove negligence per se, which amounts to pointing to a violation of a dog safety law or regulation and saying, “I don’t need to explain why these actions are unreasonably dangerous, because the law says they were illegal, and that’s good enough.” Taking this approach can make it easier to prove your case, but only if you can point to a violation of the law that played a role in causing the dog attack that harmed you.
The steps we outlined above could help your lawyer prove negligence per se by uncovering or establishing a violation of the law. For example, if you report the bite and it turns out the dog that bit you was already designated as dangerous dog, then your lawyer may have a strong and relatively easy case to make. Likewise, if by contacting the owner you learn that the dog had strayed unleashed, in violation of Philadelphia dog ordinances, then that violation could help prove your case.
In other words, the steps you take soon after your dog bite in Philadelphia really matter, and having a lawyer help you with them really can make a difference. Taking the proper steps can ensure that you meet any deadlines imposed by the statute of limitations. It can also make proving your case for damages—not just medical costs, but the whole range of harm you suffered—far easier than it might otherwise be.
What Else Can a Dog Bite Lawyer Do For You?
We’ve established that a dog bite lawyer can guide you through the critical first steps to take after suffering injuries in a dog attack in Philadelphia. The lawyer can advise you on reporting the bite, assist in filing a dangerous dog complaint, and make sure you take any necessary action to preserve your rights under the statute of limitation.
The answer depends on the circumstances. However, in general, a skilled dog bite lawyer can also:
- Investigate the causes of the dog attack;
- Research all parties who may owe you compensation for your injuries;
- Prepare and file insurance claims and legal pleadings in Philadelphia courts;
- Negotiate settlements with defense lawyers and insurance companies;
- Take a dog bite case to trial before a Philly judge and jury; and
- Ensure that you actually receive the money due to you for your dog bite injuries and losses.
For a free consultation to learn more about your rights after suffering injuries from a dog bite, contact an experienced Philadelphia dog bite attorney today.