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Philadelphia Dog Bites: The Basics

Nothing beats a day at the Schuylkill River Dog Park with your best friend Fido, so when Fido bolts to chase a squirrel you don't bat an eye. A child's scream breaks from the direction Fido ran interrupts your daydream, and you realize there was no squirrel. The kid is bawling and his mother is pointing at Fido, screaming "keep that beast away!" You apologize profusely and tell them that Fido has never misbehaved before.

But what are the legal consequences of a dog bite? What will happen to Fido? Does the child have a legal claim against you? You need straight answers and this guide to your Philadelphia dog bite case may help.

First Steps

If you are the victim of a dog bite, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Even minor bites should be thoroughly scrubbed with soap and water. You should also notify the Division of Disease Control at (215) 685-6748 to report the incident. Once notified of the incident, they will evaluate whether you are at risk for rabies infection. To safeguard your legal rights and properly report the incident, please take note of:

  • An accurate description of the biting animal;
  • Whether the biting animal is wild, a stray, or a pet;
  • If a pet, the owner's name and address; and
  • How the bite occurred.

What Happens to Fido?

A dog that has caused severe injury or death to a human or domestic animal may be removed from the owner's care by a police officer or state dog warden. It will be placed in quarantine and possibly euthanized if determined to be appropriate by a judge. The cost of quarantine and euthanasia will be paid for by the dangerous dog's owner.

Animal Confinement Law

Pennsylvania has a statewide animal confinement law that requires all animals to be confined within the premises of their owner or firmly secured with a collar and chain so that it cannot stray beyond the premises on which the animal is secured. The exceptions would be if the dog is engaged in lawful hunting, exhibition, performance events, or field training.

The significance of the animal confinement law comes into dog bite cases when we apply the doctrine of negligence per se, which provides that anyone who breaks the law may be liable for any injuries that result from the law breaking activity (so long as the injury is of the type the law was meant to prevent). That means that if a dog was not on a leash and was not properly secured on the owner's premises, the dog's owner may be held financially liable in state court for any injuries it inflict while roaming free.

However, note that, unlike most states, this is not a strict liability rule because the owner might not be responsible for injuries if they exercised due care to keep their dog confined. For example, in a case where a dog broke free of its chain and attacked someone, it was found that the victim had to prove that the dog owner failed to use due care in chaining the dog.

Dogs With a History of Violence

The one bite rule provides that a dog bite victim can recover if the dog owner knew or should have known the dog had the propensity for violent, aggressive behavior yet didn't take the proper safety measures to prevent someone from being bitten, mauled, or killed. However, there are defenses to this rule such as if the victim was trespassing on the owner's property, or if the victim provoked the dog into attacking.

A victim of a dog with a previous history of aggression or of a dog whom a reasonable pet owner would have known could bite is entitled to full compensation for his or her injuries.

If the Dog Has Never Bitten Anyone Before

Victims of dogs that have never bitten before are divided by Pennsylvania law into categories based on how badly they were injured. A severe dog bite injury is defined as one that causes broken bones, fractures or disfigurement in the form of lacerations that require multiple stitches. A victim who has been severely injured by a dog will receive full recovery if he or she can prove that the dog was not provoked to attack.

A dog bite victim who was not severely injured is only entitled to compensation for medical expenses, to be paid fully by the pet owner. Any cost to the victim as a result of a dog bite is available, with the only proof required that the defendant owned the biting dog.

Statute of Limitations

Pennsylvania has a two year statute of limitations for dog attack cases. If the victim is a minor, the suit must be filed within two years of the victim's eighteenth birthday. If the lawsuit was not initiated within the statutory period, the victim loses their right to bring a case for that injury.

Dangerous Dog Law

Dangerous dogs also have their own classification under Pennsylvania's dangerous dog law, which protects both humans and other dogs who may have been attacked without provocation. Pennsylvania law enforcement authorities can charge the owners of dangerous dogs who have attacked with harboring a dangerous dog if the dog severely injured a person or pet on public or private property without provocation, was used in the commission of a crime, or if the dog has a history of attacking people or other domestic animals without provocation. The owners of such dogs are guilty of the misdemeanor crime of "harboring a dangerous dog."

Furthermore, specific requirements are placed on the owners of dangerous dogs. The dog must receive a Certificate of Registration, the owner must carry at least $50,000 insurance for personal injuries inflicted by the dog, it must be properly enclosed with sufficient warning signs and the dog must be muzzled when outside its enclosure. Most importantly, however, the owner will be held criminally responsible if his or her dangerous dog attacks anyone in the future.

Learn more about dog bite law, or learn how to file your Philadelphia personal injury lawsuit today.

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