An Overview of Pennsylvania Dog Bite Laws

Whether you own a dog or you regularly spend time around them, it’s worth knowing more about Pennsylvania’s dog bite laws. Owners are often liable for a victim’s medical costs when their dog attacks someone else—and depending on the circumstances, they may also be liable for associated costs, such as lost wages and pain and suffering.

Here’s what you need to know about PA’s dog bite laws.

Current dog bite laws

3 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 459-502(b)(1) requires dog owners to pay the full medical costs when their dog bites another human. This is a strict liability statute, which means the only fact that matters is that the dog bit someone. Even if the dog had never bitten someone before, or there were extenuating circumstances that led to the dog bite, the owner still has to pay.

If your bite was more severe, however, you might want to recover additional damages. For example, pain and suffering damages are designed to compensate for other issues arising from the dog bite, such as disfigurement, rehabilitation, loss of enjoyment of life, emotional trauma and more. If you missed work while recovering from the dog attack, you’d want the owner to be responsible for your lost income—and if the dog attack prevents you from working at the same job, that too should be part of what’s taken into consideration when determining the compensation package.

To recover damages beyond what the strict liability statute allows, you’ll need to file a negligence lawsuit against the owner. In Pennsylvania, you must prove that the dog had “unmistakably vicious tendencies,” and that the owner failed to control the dog appropriately.

Proving a dog has “unmistakably vicious tendencies” is a higher bar to clear than showing it has bitten someone once before. Nor does the dog have to have bitten someone else to show those tendencies. It’s best to consult with an attorney about whether you have a good dog bite negligence case—the answer will depend on the specific facts.

Harboring dangerous dogs

A dog can be considered “dangerous” and its owner convicted of harboring a dangerous dog under 3 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 459-502(a) if it meets several conditions. This applies if the dog has a propensity to attack humans or other animals without provocation, has inflicted severe injury on a human without provocation, has killed or inflicted severe injury on another pet while off the owner’s property, has attacked a human without provocation or was used in the commission of a crime.

Should a dog and its owner meet any of these conditions, they can be convicted of a summary offense (a low-level crime). They may be fined $500 and required to implant their dog with a microchip, among other requirements.

Dog bite defenses

Of course, there are some defenses that can be used in a civil negligence trial—such as whether the plaintiff was trespassing or provoked the attack. Your attorney will be able to determine which defenses may apply in your case.

If you have more questions about Pennsylvania dog bite laws, or to find out whether you have a dog bite case in PA, call Rosato Law Offices today.