If you’ve been bitten by someone else’s dog in Pennsylvania, or you’re a dog owner you want to understand your legal responsibilities, you need to understand Pennsylvania’s laws related to dog bite injury liability.
Like every state, Pennsylvania sets statutory limits on the amount of time that can pass before a claimant must file a civil lawsuit in the state’s courts. In Pennsylvania, all personal injury lawsuits —including cases stemming from dog bites—must be filed within two years of the date the injury occurred (that means the day on which you were bitten or otherwise harmed by the dog).
If you try to file your lawsuit more than two years after the date of your injury, the court will almost certainly dismiss it, unless a rare exception applies to effectively extend the deadline. Learn more about the personal injury statute of limitations.
In many states, dog owners are protected (to some degree) from injury liability the first time their dog injures someone if they had no reason to believe the dog was dangerous. This is often called a “one bite” rule. In Pennsylvania however, a specific statute (3 Pa. Con. Stat. Ann. section 459-502 (b)) makes the owner “strictly liable”, meaning regardless of the animal’s past behavior, the dog owner is responsible for a personal injury caused by his/her dog.
For a full understanding of your best course of action after an injury, call us now. We will fight to protect your rights and make you whole again.
Dog bite cases in Pennsylvania are governed by both statutes and case law.
First, according to Pennsylvania’s statutes (3 P.S. § 459-502), whenever a dog bites or otherwise injures someone, the animal’s owner is financially liable for the cost of all medical treatment related to the injury. No proof of fault is required here. But it’s important to note that this law does not make the owner responsible for other damages stemming from the incident, like pain and suffering and lost income. That doesn’t mean a Pennsylvania dog owner is off the hook for these kinds of losses, however. That’s where case law (rules arising from court decisions) comes in.
Pennsylvania courts have set out rules for suing for bites and other injuries when that harm results from the dog owner’s negligence. That means proving that the animal’s owner:
Pennsylvania’s courts have held that a dog can demonstrate vicious tendencies without necessarily biting someone, but also that a single previous bite doesn’t automatically lead to the conclusion that the dog is vicious. Generally speaking, if the dog owner violates the Pennsylvania law requiring that the animal be restrained at all times, a finding of negligence will follow.
In a negligence-based lawsuit, the dog owner will be on the legal hook for the full spectrum of the claimant’s losses, which means medical bills and non-financial effects like “pain and suffering.” Learn more about damages in a personal injury case.
If your animal is considered a Dangerous Dog, your responsibilities as a pet owner are heightened.
A “Dangerous Dog” is:
(1) a dog that has done one or more of the following:
(2) a dog that has either or both of the following:
A Pennsylvania dog owner may turn to a number of legal defenses in response to a dog bite claim, including arguments that:
If the injured claimant is found to bear some level of legal responsibility for his or her harm, Pennsylvania’s “comparative negligence” rule will apply, and if the claimant’s share of fault is 50 percent or less, any court award will be reduced in direct proportion to the percentage of fault.
If you find yourself on either side of a Pennsylvania dog bite claim—as the animal’s owner or as someone who suffered an injury—it may be time to discuss your situation with a personal injury lawyer.
The Shaw Law Group can help you no matter what side of this issue you find yourself on.