If You’ve Been Bitten, Let Us Bite Back

Scartelli Olszewski P.C.

The U.S. Humane Society estimates there are 83.3 million dogs in the United States, with nearly half of all U.S. households having at least one dog. Though most are wonderful companions, some dogs present a risk of harm to others. More than 27,000 people needed reconstructive surgery in 2012 due to dog bites, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year and about 885,000 of them need medical attention as a result. Half of the victims are children. We represent dog bite victims seeking compensation for their injuries and payment of their medical bills. These attacks can be terrifying and leave long-lasting physical and psychological scars on their victims. Pennsylvania has had a “Dog Law” on the books, in one form or another, for many years. An early version used the “one free bite” rule. The dog owner was not liable to the first victim that his or her dog bit. But that first bite triggered liability for future bites, as it gave the owner “notice” of a dog’s behaviour. Owners were then responsible for making sure it didn’t happen again. That law changed in 1996. New amendments criminalized both unprovoked attacks causing severe injury and unprovoked attacks in cases in which there was a clear prior history of viciousness displayed by the dog. The 1996 law also criminalized “harboring a dangerous dog.”These amendments didn’t clearly end the “one free bite rule” in all cases. Judges interpreted it to provide that where an unprovoked attack resulted in severe injury, the victim did not have to prove prior attacks. When an unprovoked attack caused a non-serious injury, to prevail, the victim did have to prove a history of viciousness. The Pennsylvania Dog Law was amended again in 2008. Under the current Dog Law, an owner may be held responsible for a first and single attack, if a dog showed the requisite level of viciousness. Appellate Court justices have interpreted the 2008 Pennsylvania Dog Law as meaning the facts and circumstances surrounding the first and only attack may be sufficient to prove the requisite viciousness of the subject dog to result in liability. Under Pennsylvania law, dogs must be under proper and adequate control. This means they must be confined to an owner’s property, leashed or otherwise maintained within reasonable control of the owner or another person. This is referred to as the “Leash Law.”Violating the Leash Law can result in liability for a dog attack if it is shown that the violation was unexcused and it substantially contributed to an attack. A finding of an unexcused violation of the Leash Law can constitute “negligence per se” (showing a violation of the law is showing negligence). Pennsylvania has a two-year statute of limitations for negligence cases, including dog attack cases. A lawsuit must be filed within two years of the attack, unless the victim is a minor. If so, the suit can be filed within two years of the victim’s eighteenth birthday. If you or a loved one has suffered personal injury because of a dog attack, contact our office so we can discuss the incident and explore your legal recourse.