You're out doing what a lot of people in the Steel City do: you're shopping at the Waterfront. Working your way through a crowd, you don't see the tiny dog small enough to fit into a purse. The little guy surprisingly bites your ankle to put you in your place. Now what happens with you, the dog, and the owner?
Pittsburgh is an animal-friendly town, but everyone has to act responsibly. In most cases, local residents do just that. We confine our dogs, muzzle them when necessary, and train them not to be too aggressive. Occasionally, an irresponsible person turns even the calmest canine into a "Pitt-bull." This guide to dog bites in Pittsburgh will explain the basics of recovering after a dog bite.
What We Mean By "Dog Bites"
When the law mentions dog bites, it is talking about attacks on people, generally. For example, the section covering consequences for the dog states: "Any dog which bites or attacks a human being shall be confined..." See Pennsylvania's Dog Law, specifically Pennsylvania Statutes section 459-502. According to this statute, even if a would-be victim were quick enough to avoid a bite, the laws of a dog bite might still apply because the dog pursued a human.
Reporting the Bite or Attack
The Commonwealth requires individuals to report dog bites in every case. Known attacks must be reported to the State Dog Warden within your county. In Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, report dog bites to the Dog Warden at (412) 418-2163.
Individual cities and counties may create additional reporting duties. In Pittsburgh, attack victims and medical personnel must report the attacks to the Bureau of Animal Care and Control. Provide your: (1) name; (2) age; (3) sex; (4) address; and (5) date of the attack. If you are familiar with the dog and/or its owner, provide the Bureau with the dog's: (1) breed; (2) sex; (3) age; (4) color; and (5) history of vaccination. A police officer or Animal Care and Control Officer will then investigate the incident.
Consequences for the Dog
As mentioned above, a dog that bites or attacks must be quarantined and isolated on the dog owner's property or at another approved location for at least 10 days. If the dog is captured while loose and wearing tags, the owner must reclaim it at Animal Rescue League's shelter on Hamilton Avenue and Washington Boulevard within ten days. Even if the owner reclaims the pet, the pet must still remain quarantined for the ten day period.
If the dog is captured but is unlicensed and untagged, the owner has only three days from the time of impoundment to reclaim it. After the allotted time runs out, the dog may be euthanized. If the dog is with its owner at the time of an investigation, the investigating officer will send the owner a quarantine notice.
The Owner's Civil Liability
Pennsylvania's law of civil liability from dog bites is unique and depends on the injury sustained by the victim. If the victim sustained a severe injury -- defined as one resulting in "broken bones or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery" -- then the owner is guilty of a misdemeanor and automatically negligent. As a result, a victim can recover amounts he/she normally would under in a Pittsburgh personal injury case.
In the case of a non-severe injury, the owner's liability is not so automatic. If the owner can show that he/she exercised due care in confining the dog, the owner would not be negligent. The resulting bite may, however, be used to have the dog declared a "dangerous dog." In which case, any future bites would make the owner guilty of a misdemeanor and automatically liable.
The Owner's Criminal Liability
First Time Attack
The victim of a canine attack may file a complaint in District Court alleging that the owner/keeper is harboring a "dangerous dog." A court will find the owner/keeper guilty of a misdemeanor if the court finds beyond a reasonable doubt that the dog: (1) attacked a human in this case without provocation; and (2) the dog has a history or propensity for attacking humans or domestic animals, which may be proved by a single instance of a severe injury.
A court may also find an owner/keeper guilty of harboring a dangerous dogs in cases of attacks on animals while off the dog owner's land. For more information, see section 459-502-A. If the court finds that a dog is a dangerous dog, the court will likely order the owner to pay restitution to the victim.
If a dog has already been found to be a dangerous dog, the owner faces additional liability. Dangerous dogs are required to be muzzled whenever they are outside of the owner's dwelling. If the dog bites a person off of the owner's property, the owner will be charged with a misdemeanor and fined as much as $5,000.
If you've been bitten or attacked by a dog in Pittsburgh, you may wish to speak with an experienced attorney who works with animal and dog bite cases so that you can get more information specific to your case. Every case is different, and time limits do apply for bringing an action.
Contact a qualified attorney.