Defenses in Dog Bite Lawsuits

June 29, 2018

In Pennsylvania, dog bite injuries are governed by a unique series of regulations that provide a basic level of compensation to most injured plaintiffs, but that only allows for a significant award of compensatory damages to those plaintiffs who can prove additional negligence on the part of the dog owner.  Recovery may be complicated by various factors — a qualified Allentown dog bite attorney can provide assistance with your injury claims.

If you have suffered a dog bite injury, then it’s important that you consider the wide range of defenses that will be used by the defendant dog owner to minimize or possibly even avoid liability altogether.  Understanding these defense arguments will give you a competitive advantage during negotiations and in the litigation process.

Dog Not “Dangerous” Under Statutory Law

In the state of Pennsylvania, dog bite injuries fall under the strict liability umbrella.  What this means is that you will always be entitled to recover at least “some” damages as a result of having suffered a dog bite injury — generally speaking, however, this is limited to compensatory damages that covers your medical expenses.  Strict liability in the dog bite context does not give you access to damages for wage loss, pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other significant losses.

If you intend to recover a broader range of damages, you’ll have to assert and prove that the defendant’s dog was “dangerous” and that the defendant acted negligently, which led to the injuries at-issue.

Thus, defendant dog owners may attempt to minimize their potential liability by arguing that their dog was not actually dangerous.  Section 502(a) of the Pennsylvania Statutes clearly defines a dangerous dog as one who has not only engaged in a violent act (or been used to commit a criminal act), but who has a history of doing so without provocation.

Owner Was Not Negligent

In addition to having a “dangerousness” requirement, you — the plaintiff — must show that the defendant dog owner acted negligently in failing to control their dog.  Generally speaking, dogs must be properly restrained at all times.  Failure to control the dangerous dog by restraining it will constitute negligence.

Any situation that could foreseeably lead to a dog bite injury must be handled appropriately by the dog owner.  For example, if the dog owner brings their dangerous dog to a park, then they must exercise sufficient control (and caution) to ensure that the dog does not get loose and bite someone.

Plaintiff Provoked the Dog

Provocation is an absolute defense to a dog bite injury.  If you have provoked the dog in any way prior to the bite injury, then the defendant may avoid liability altogether.  The central question, of course, invariably centers around whether you have “provoked” the dog.  If the damages are significant, then a desperate dog owner defendant may attempt to argue that you petting the dog (with the owner’s consent) constituted a provocation — given those circumstances, however (consent of the owner, gentle petting), such behavior would almost certainly not be considered a provocation.

Plaintiff Was Willfully Trespassing

Willful trespassing is another absolute defense to a dog bite injury.  For example, if you decide to jump your neighbor’s fence and pass through their yard without proper authorization or consent (i.e., willful trespassing), then any dog bite injury you sustain on their yard will not be actionable.  You cannot recover damages.

Dog Was Confined or Restrained

Pennsylvania law requires that all dog owners restrain and/or confine their dogs, even if the dog is not “dangerous.”  In the home context, the dog must be confined somehow, whether indoors or outdoors.  If you sustain a dog bite due to the owner’s failure to confine or restrain their dog (so as to maintain reasonable control), you are entitled to a broad range of damages due to their negligence.  On the other hand, the owner may assert that they did, in fact, properly restraint or confine their dog.

This is ultimately a fact-oriented issue, and the arguments from either party will vary quite significantly on a case-by-case basis.

Contact an Experienced Allentown Dog Bite Attorney for a Free Consultation

Drake, Hileman & Davis, PC, is a well-respected Pennsylvania litigation firm with offices throughout eastern Pennsylvania.  Our attorneys have successfully represented plaintiffs in a range of personal injury litigation — including dog bite lawsuits — for over three decades.  We are committed to the provision of “personalized” legal representation.  We do not push our clients to settle, and we believe that the needs and preferences of the client must be prioritized above all.

Our unique, client-centered approach to litigation has brought us a great deal of success over the years.  We have an extensive history of securing favorable verdicts and settlements on behalf of injured clients.

Call (888) 777-7098 today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced Allentown dog bite attorney here at Drake, Hileman & Davis, PC.