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Pennsylvania Dog Bite Laws

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In Pennsylvania, a state known for its rich history and vibrant communities, the occasional, unexpected encounter with a dog bite incident can be life-altering. Indeed, statistics from the Insurance Information Institute illustrate that dog bite injuries are more common than one might think. In 2017, Pennsylvania recorded 1,002 insurance claims resulting from dog bites, a reminder that these incidents can happen to anyone, anywhere.

To ensure you are well-prepared and informed in the event of a dog bite, this article thoroughly explores Pennsylvania’s dog bite laws. From understanding the statute of limitations to unpacking liability standards and negligence, we’ll guide you through this intricate section of Pennsylvania law. You’ll gain insights into the responsibilities of dog owners, learn about the state’s stance on breed-specific legislation, and delve into the nuances of the Dangerous Dog Law.

Furthermore, we’ll decode these cases' civil and criminal penalties, highlighting what you can expect when pursuing justice. Lastly, we’ll equip you with valuable tips on finding the right attorney to champion your case. 

Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania for Dog Bite Claims

In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for filing a dog bite claim is generally two years from the date of the incident

Exceeding this limit may result in the forfeiture of your legal right to seek compensation for injuries and damages sustained from a dog bite. Filing within the stipulated time frame is essential to ensure your case remains valid. Prompt action allows for proper evidence preservation, witness testimony, and negotiation, ultimately strengthening your position in seeking justice and compensation for the harm suffered.

Liability Standards and Negligence in Pennsylvania Dog Bite Cases

Pennsylvania adheres to strict liability and negligence standards regarding dog bite cases. Under strict liability, the dog owner can be held responsible for injuries caused by their dog, even if the dog had no prior history of aggression or the owner was unaware of its dangerous propensities. Therefore, in most cases, dog owners are automatically liable for damages resulting from their dog’s bites.

However, Pennsylvania law offers some protection to dog owners in cases where a person is bitten while trespassing or provoking the dog or if the dog is a police or military working dog acting in the line of duty. In such instances, strict liability may not apply, and the injured party may need to prove negligence on the owner's part, such as failure to restrain or control the dog properly. 

Dog Owner Responsibilities in Pennsylvania

Like many states, dog owners in Pennsylvania have considerable responsibilities regarding the behavior and containment of their pets.

First and foremost, they must exercise reasonable care to prevent their dogs from causing harm to others. This includes restraining their dogs in public and private spaces and ensuring they are appropriately leashed or confined to avoid aggressive behavior or attacks. For most dog owners in the state, this is the extent of their responsibility to prevent dog bites, but these responsibilities will increase if the dog is classified as dangerous. 

Potential Defenses for Dog Owners in Pennsylvania

However, Pennsylvania does offer some potential defenses to dog owners facing liability for their pets’ actions:

  • Provocation: If it can be shown that the victim provoked the dog in a way that a reasonable person would consider likely to lead to an attack, the dog owner may argue that provocation caused the incident and that they should not be held liable.

  • Trespassing: If the victim was unlawfully on the owner’s property at the time of the attack, the dog owner may use trespassing as a defense. However, this may not apply if the owner had prior knowledge of the trespasser’s presence and did nothing to prevent the attack.

  • Assumption of Risk: In some cases, a dog owner may argue that the victim assumed the risk of being bitten, mainly if they were aware of the dog’s aggressive tendencies but chose to interact with it anyway. 

While these defenses might mitigate liability in certain situations, dog owners must adhere to Pennsylvania's strict liability standard for dog bites, except when these defenses can be substantiated. Responsible ownership, proper containment, and preventative measures remain crucial to ensuring the safety of both dogs and the community. 

Breed-Specific Legislation

Pennsylvania takes a progressive stance on breed-specific legislation. Notably, the state does not have state-wide breed restrictions in place. Even more importantly, the state explicitly prohibits local municipalities from imposing breed-specific restrictions or bans on dog ownership. Therefore, cities and counties within the state cannot target specific breeds, such as pit bulls or rottweilers, with breed-specific regulations.

This proactive approach to dog ownership extends beyond legislation. Pennsylvania also has a law that prohibits insurance companies from discriminating against homeowners or renters based on the breed of dog they own. Insurance providers are not allowed to deny coverage or charge higher premiums solely due to the breed of the policy owner’s dog. This safeguards responsible dog owners from unfair treatment by insurance companies. 

Pennsylvania’s Dangerous Dog Law

Pennsylvania’s Dangerous Dog Law, enacted in 1990 and later amended in 2008, establishes a framework for identifying, managing, and controlling dogs considered dangerous due to their aggressive behavior or attacks on humans or other animals. Under the law, a dangerous dog is defined as one that has attacked, inflicted severe injury on, or killed a human being or domestic animal without provocation. It can also include a dog that poses a severe threat to the safety of people or other animals. 

Owners of dangerous dogs must register them with their local municipality and comply with specific requirements. These requirements may include securely confining the dog, posting warning signs on the owner’s property, and obtaining liability insurance. 

Civil Penalties for Dog Bites in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, civil penalties for dog bites are determined based on the severity of the injury and the circumstances surrounding the incident. Typically, the dog owner can be held liable for compensatory damages, which include medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering endured by the victim. The exact amount of compensation is determined through negotiations between the parties involved, their insurance companies, or in a court of law if an agreement cannot be reached.

Comparative Negligence in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania operates on a modified comparative negligence system, which means that if the victim is found to be partially responsible for the dog bite incident, their compensation may be reduced proportionally to their degree of fault. However, if the victim’s fault is more significant than the dog owner’s, they may not be entitled to compensation.

How Civil Penalties are Enforced

Enforcement of civil penalties for dog bites in Pennsylvania typically occurs through the legal system. Victims may file a personal injury lawsuit against the dog owner to seek compensation for their damages. Alternatively, insurance companies may cover the costs if the dog owner has liability insurance that covers such incidents. In some cases, disputes may be settled through negotiation or alternative dispute resolution methods, but the legal process is available to ensure fair compensation for victims of dog bites.

Criminal Penalties for Dog Bites in Pennsylvania

Criminal penalties for dog bites in Pennsylvania primarily involve charges related to the owner’s actions and responsibilities. The state does not have specific criminal statutes targeting dogs for bites. Instead, criminal penalties are determined by the incident's circumstances and the owner’s actions or negligence.

If the owner’s actions are deemed reckless or intentionally harmful, they could potentially face criminal charges such as:

  • Aggravated Assault: If a dog owner knowingly allows their dog to attack someone, resulting in severe bodily harm, they may be charged with aggravated assault, a felony offense.

  • Simple Assault: Reckless behavior that leads to less severe injuries can result in charges of simple assault, a misdemeanor.

  • Negligence or Harassment: In cases where the owner’s negligence or harassment directly leads to the dog bite, they may face charges of negligence or harassment, depending on the specific circumstances.

The determination of criminal penalties in these cases hinges on factors like the severity of the injuries, the owner’s intent, and their level of responsibility. Law enforcement and prosecutors enforce these criminal penalties through the legal system. The severity of charges and potential penalties vary, typically including fines, probation, or imprisonment.

Reporting and Handling Dog Bite Incidents

If a dog has bitten you or someone you know, taking swift and informed action is crucial to protect your health and rights. 

  1. Seek Medical Attention: If a dog bites you, your health and safety should be the top priority. Clean the wound thoroughly and seek medical attention promptly, even for minor bites. This helps prevent infections and documents the injury. 

  2. Identify the Dog and Owner: Gather information about the dog and its owner, including the owner’s name and contact information, if possible. This information will be crucial for reporting the incident.

  3. Report to Local Authorities: Contact your local dog enforcement officer, animal control agency, or local police to report the dog bite incident. Provide them with all relevant details and any evidence you may have, such as photographs of the injury or the dog.

  4. Document Your Injuries: Maintain detailed records of your injuries, medical treatment, and related expenses. This documentation will be valuable if you pursue a legal compensation claim.

  5. Contact an Attorney: If you intend to seek compensation for your injuries, consider consulting a personal injury attorney experienced in dog bite cases. They can help you understand your rights and guide you through the legal process. 

How To Find a Dog Bite Attorney in Pennsylvania

Securing legal assistance when pursuing compensation for a dog bite is vital, but finding the right attorney for your case can be challenging with so many options. 

Expertise.com’s Personal Injury Lawyer Directory simplifies the process by connecting you with top attorneys in your metro area. Each featured lawyer undergoes a rigorous review, ensuring they excel in dog bite cases. This comprehensive research and mystery shopping process guarantees access to experienced professionals who understand the intricacies of Pennsylvania’s laws. 

With their expertise, you can navigate legal complexities, negotiate with insurance companies, or take legal action confidently. This support significantly enhances your chances of obtaining fair compensation for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and other damages resulting from the dog bite.

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