It is estimated that there are 74 million dogs kept as pets in the United States. The natural bond between humans and animals goes back tens of thousands of years. However, the relationship between humans and dogs can take a turn for the worse when the dog attacks. It is estimated that 4.5 million dog bites occur in the United States each year. These statistics are pulled from data on dog bites that are actually reported; and, there are likely many more bites that go unreported. In Pennsylvania, the laws regarding dog bites are straightforward and make the dog owner responsible civilly and criminally liable for the dog bite in certain circumstances.
Pennsylvania holds dog owners responsible for a dog bite only if the owner knew or had reason to know of his dog’s vicious propensity. Jumping aggressively, barking, growling, snapping, showing teeth, or prior attacks by the dog can be considered vicious propensities. Vicious propensities are determined by the dog’s actions, not the breed or size of the dog. Pennsylvania courts find that it is unfair to hold dog owners liable for actions of their dogs when they are normally harmless.
Pennsylvania does not recognize the “one free bite” rule. This rule shields dog owners from liability for the first victim of each of his animals. Courts have long held that as soon as the owner knows or has reason to know of the dog’s vicious propensities, whether the suspicion arises from one act or repeated acts, the owner must take care to safeguard against other attacks.
Dog Owner Liability
Dog owners can also find themselves in hot water if they are not following specific statutes under a legal theory called negligence per se. To prove negligence per se, the person suing the dog owner must show that the dog owner violated a statute that was intended to avoid the type of harm that was done to a person within a class of people that the statute was specifically designed to protect, i.e. leash laws are designed to protect the public from dogs running loose. Two Pennsylvania statutes that often create liability for dog owners are the leash law and the dangerous dog statute.
The leash law makes it unlawful for dog owners to fail to keep the dog either confined within their premises, secured by means of a collar and chain so that it cannot stray from the premises, or under the reasonable control of some person, or when engaged in lawful hunting or training.
The dangerous dog statute imposes criminal liability on dog owners whose dog has attacked inflicted severe injury to a person without provocation on public or private property, has killed or inflicted severe injury on a domestic animal without provocation while off the owner’s property, attacked a person without provocation, or has been used to commit a crime. The dog must have a history and/or a propensity to attack people and/or domestic animals without provocation.
If you have been injured by a dog or your dog has attacked another person or animal, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced Philadelphia attorney immediately.