Pennsylvania and Limited Strict Liability for Dog Bites

October 3, 2019

In Pennsylvania, the law is quite plaintiff-friendly with regard to dog bite injuries.  If you’ve been injured in a dog bite accident, you are practically guaranteed some amount of damages as compensation.  Still, those damages may be limited unless you can prove that the defendant’s dog was uniquely dangerous or that the defendant acted negligently, thus contributing to the injuries you suffered.

Pennsylvania Employs a Hybrid Liability System

Pennsylvania dog bite liability can seem rather complicated upon first impression.  Let’s break it down into its component parts for the sake of clarity.

Strict Liability

No matter what, if you are bitten by a dog and thereby injured, you will be entitled to damages for your medical expenses.  For example, if the defendant has their dog tightly leashed, but the dog suddenly and unexpectedly jumps at you and bites your hand, you would be entitled to whatever medical expenses you incur as a result, even if the defendant had the dog properly restrained and the dog did not have a dangerous disposition.

Of course, medical expenses are not generally sufficient to cover all the losses associated with a serious bite injury.  Dog bite injuries can give rise to a range of damages that include wage loss, pain and suffering, and emotional distress.

So, how can you recover the full range of damages that would properly compensate you for the suffered losses?  You’ll have to prove that the dog was dangerous — in other words, had vicious propensities — or that the defendant violated one of their duties as a dog owner, thus contributing to your injuries.

Dangerous and/or Vicious Propensities

In Pennsylvania, a dog has vicious propensities and will be considered a dangerous dog if it has a prior, violent history.  This history may include the following:

  1. Injuring or attacking a person without provocation;
  2. Injuring another domestic animal without provocation, though only if the incident place outside of the defendant’s own property; or
  3. Being used to engage in criminal conduct.


Dog owners in Pennsylvania have a duty to properly confine and restrain their dogs — whether or not the dog is dangerous.  Owners must exercise reasonable control over their dogs at all times.

For example, if an owner puts the leash on the sidewalk for a few minutes while making a call, and the dog (now unrestrained) attacks a nearby pedestrian, then the owner will likely be found negligent for failing to exercise reasonable control.

Similarly, if the dog is not restrained, then it must be confined to the owner’s property.  The owner can keep an unleashed dog in their backyard, for example, if the backyard is fenced.  If the backyard is not fenced, and the dog can simply run into a neighbor’s yard and bite them, then the owner will likely be found negligent.

If you’ve been bitten by a dog in Pennsylvania, then you may be entitled to significant compensation for your injuries.  It’s important to note, however, that the damages are likely to vary quite a bit depending on the circumstances — if the dog is dangerous, or if the owner was somehow negligent in failing to confine or otherwise restrain their dog, then you might recover a wider range of damages than if those elements were not involved.

Get in touch with an experienced dog bite attorney for further guidance.