Dogs can have temperaments as diverse as those of humans – and often are influenced by the same factors. Some dogs are naturally aggressive, while others are aggressive because they have been abused, improperly socialized or trained to be aggressive.
The way a dog behaves can be a reflection on the owner, both personally and legally. If you or a loved one has been seriously injured after being bitten by someone else’s dog, you likely have the right to pursue compensation for medical bills and other losses.
Pennsylvania’s unique liability laws regarding dog bites
Dog bite liability laws vary by state and generally fall into two categories. Many states impose “strict liability,” meaning if a dog bites someone, the owner is liable because they own the dog. Other states have what is sometimes called a “one-bite rule,” meaning that when a dog bites someone, owners can be held liable only if they knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous and failed to take reasonable steps to restrain the dog.
Pennsylvania laws are a hybrid of these two models. When it comes to liability for medical costs, owners are strictly liable. This means victims do not need to prove owner negligence in order to recover any costs related to medical care.
When it comes to non-medical damages, however, it is usually necessary to prove the owner was negligent. Non-medical damages can include compensation for things like:
- Permanent disfigurement
- Lost wages and reduced earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish or psychological trauma
Proving owner negligence
Evidence is weighed in context and in its entirety. Therefore, there may not be a “smoking gun” piece of evidence in a dog bite case. Evidence of owner negligence might include:
- Proof that the dog has bitten/attacked others in the past and the owners knew or should have known about it
- Evidence that the dog’s owners allowed the dog to roam around without a leash in violation of local ordinances
- Documentation that the dog is listed as a “dangerous dog” on a state registry
The evidence above could be helpful in most dog bite lawsuits. Dog owners may be able to defend against the allegations, but their options for doing so are narrow. They would usually need to prove that the victim had either been willfully trespassing at the time of the attack, that the victim had provoked the dog before the attack, or both.
If you are considering filing a dog-bite claim, please remember that every case is unique, and it is usually wise to seek case-specific legal advice.