If you are anything like me, you are a dog lover from way back! Much as we love our mutts, however, some dogs are downright dangerous. While some breeds have an undeserved bad rap, dog bite cases can arise with any breed. Last week alone saw two fatalities from dog attacks. In one, the family dog killed a 6-week-old infant. In the other, a dog killed its owner, an adult woman who was taking it for a walk. Suffice to say, dog bite lawsuits can cost you plenty in Pennsylvania.
Dog bite injuries can be severe. Consequently, jury awards and settlements can be significant. Some Pennsylvania settlements and verdicts have exceeded $500,000. In 2018, awards in the state averaged approximately $40,000 per claim. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania ranks fifth in the nation for dog bite claims.
Your responsibilities as a pet owner
In Pennsylvania, several laws set forth our responsibilities as pet owners. First and foremost, you must register any dog older than 3 months with your county treasurer, License your Dog. Second, you must keep your animals up to date in shots that protect both dog and humans. Diseases such as rabies, distemper, and parvovirus can cause serious illness or death to pets or people. Dogs also carry bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi that can cause illnesses in humans. (Infections transmitted by dogs. ) Thus, you must thoroughly clean and care for a dog bite as soon as possible to promote healing and prevent transmission of disease to a human being.
You must always have control of your dog
Third, owners must always have their pets under control. Dogs must be on leash in public or confined at home so they cannot roam their neighborhood at will. A dog owner is liable for injuries to a person if the dog is not properly restrained and bites a victim. Unlike some other jurisdictions, Pennsylvania courts can find a pet owner liable for “harboring a dangerous dog” even if the dog has never before attacked a person or domestic animal. This is referred to as the “no free bite” rule. Commonwealth vs. Hake.
Is your dog a “dangerous dog”
A dog owner is responsible for all damages if a person is attacked, especially if the dog has been considered dangerous in the past. The victim of a dog bite in Pennsylvania, however, need not have sustained serious injuries to bring a case under the Pennsylvania Dog Law. Minor injuries suffice according to a 2001 Chester County case, Commonwealth vs. Baldwin.
A special category exists for dogs qualifying as a “dangerous dog,” meaning one that has severely injured people or a domestic animal without provocation. Owners of a “dangerous dog” must obtain a special “dangerous dog” registration, must carry liability insurance of at least $50,000, and must muzzle and strictly restrain the animal when out in public.
Should you keep a dangerous dog?
“Dangerous dogs” have been known to kill or maim infants, children, adults, and household pets. Animal behaviorists explain that some animals, despite any amount of training, can suddenly turn on a human or a pet with no advance notice, and drastic consequences ensue. The question remains, under what circumstances should you keep a “dangerous” pet. The answer is simple: you should never keep a dangerous animal! Not ever! No excuses! The risks far outweigh the rewards when it comes to dog bite lawsuits in the State of Pennsylvania.
What to do if you are bitten
If a dog bites you or someone you know, contact us immediately for a free evaluation of the case. In Pennsylvania, you have only two years from the date of the dog bite to file suit, and you may lose valuable claims if you fail to contact counsel promptly.
We have extensive experience handling dog bite cases, so call us first! We can help if you or a loved one is bitten by a dog. For more tips on the do's and don'ts of a dog bite claim, please read our blog, When an animal attacks and our book, The Pennsylvania Dog Bite Book.