Under PA law, a dog with a violent history may be legally designated as a "dangerous dog". Anyone who has been attacked by a dog, or had one of their pets attacked by a dog may file a complaint requesting this designation. In order to be classified as dangerous, one or more of the following criteria must apply:
- The dog has injured a person without provocation, on either public or private property
- The dog has killed or injured a domestic animal without provocation, while away from the owner’s property
- The dog has attacked a human being without provocation, or
- The dog was used to commit a crime.
The dangerous dog label influences the extent of damages a dog bite victim may pursue. If a victim has been bitten by a dangerous dog, he or she is permitted to seek full compensation, including:
- Medical bills
- Loss of quality of life
- Past and future lost wages
- Pain and suffering
The state divides victims based on the extent of their injuries - into "severe" and "nonsevere" categories. In cases where the dog has no prior violent history, these classifications help determine which type of compensation is appropriate. Non-severely injured victims are limited to medical expenses, while severely injured ones may seek full compensation.
Those victims with non-severe injuries will have their full medical expenses covered by the dog's owner. It doesn't matter if the dog has no history of violence, or if the owner was negligent during the attack. Regardless of circumstances - the dog's owner is responsible for a victim's medical bills in the event of an attack.
Pennsylvania's Dog Law defines a serious injury as "any physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery." Serious injuries are more common than you may realize. In 2015, there were over 28,000 reconstructive surgery procedures to treat dog bite injuries. Severe injuries can be caused by non-biting attacks as well. For example, an excited dog may knock someone onto the ground and cause a broken bone.
Determining Owner Negligence
Even if the victim's injuries are non-severe and the dog has no violent history, full compensation may be awarded if the owner was negligent in the attack.
One Bite Rule
Even if a dog has never successfully bitten someone in the past, it is still possible to prove that the owner was aware of violent tendencies. If the victim's legal team can prove that the owner was aware or should have been aware of such tendencies, then full compensation may still be recovered. Examples which may fulfil the one bite rule include:
- History of complaints - Neighbors had previously complained or expressed concerns about the dog's temperament or behavior, but the owner didn't adequately address the problem.
- History of fighting - The dog has a history of fighting with other animals or had been bred as a fighting dog.
- Treatment of animal - Certain actions may imply that the owner was aware of the dog's dangerous tendencies. For example, frequent muzzling, confinement within a cage, or verbal warnings to neighbors to be careful around the dog all could imply a propensity towards violence.
Lack Of Reasonable Care
Like in other personal injury cases, a lack of reasonable care may be used to prove negligence. Specifically, a lack of reasonable care for the wellbeing of those in frequent proximity with the dog. This lack of care can be proved either through unreasonable actions or unreasonable omissions.
For example, it would be an unreasonable action if the owner unleashed their dog in a public park and an innocent victim got bit. An unreasonable omission might involve an owner neglecting to remove the leashed dog from a group of people after the dog had begun to show aggressive behavior. In either example, the owner would likely be found negligent, and the victims would be permitted to seek full compensation.
It's important to understand that PA has a 2-year statute of limitations for personal injury cases. If you've recently suffered injuries from a dog bite, don't hesitate to speak with an attorney about the details of your incident. The right lawyer will help determine the best course of action for your case.