When Can (and Should) You File a Dog Bite Claim in Pennsylvania?

May 31, 2024

Dog bites can cause serious injuries and emotional trauma. As a result, it is critical that victims and their families recover the financial compensation they deserve. Fortunately, Pennsylvania law gives dog bite victims clear legal rights, and victims (and their families) can hire a lawyer to represent them at no out-of-pocket cost.

While Pennsylvania’s dog bite laws give victims clear legal rights, they are also complicated. With this in mind, here is an overview of when you can (and should) file a dog bite claim in Pennsylvania:

Two Types of Dog Bite Claims Under Pennsylvania Law

Unlike many states, Pennsylvania does not have a “one bite” rule for dog bite claims. Instead, Pennsylvania law establishes two different types of dog bite claims that victims and their families can file in different scenarios :

1. Dog Bite Claims Based on Strict Liability

The first type of dog bite claim is a claim based on “strict liability.” Under Pennsylvania’s strict liability law, victims and their families can file claims regardless of both: (i) the dog’s history; and, (ii) whether the dog’s owner was negligent in allowing the bite to occur.

However, when you file a claim based on strict liability, the dog’s owner is only responsible for covering your (or your loved one’s) medical expenses. Since these expenses could represent only a fraction of the total financial and non-financial costs of the attack, you will want to find out if you have grounds to file a negligence-based claim as well.

2. Dog Bite Claims Based on Negligence

Dog bite victims and their families can file claims based on negligence when a dog’s owner could and should have done more to prevent the attack. In dog bite cases, negligence can take many forms, including (but not limited to):

  • Failing to properly restrain a dog (i.e., walking a dog without a leash or allowing a dog to escape its enclosure)
  • Failing to control a dog while walking it or while it is in the presence of other people
  • Failing to comply with Pennsylvania’s legal requirements pertaining to dangerous dogs
  • Failing to comply with Pennsylvania’s confinement law for dogs that have bitten previously
  • Knowingly allowing a dog to run freely in public without a leash

If you have a claim based on negligence, you can seek just compensation for all of the losses you and your family suffer as a result of the attack. Along with medical expenses, this includes not only lost earnings and other out-of-pocket costs but also pain and suffering, emotional trauma, and other non-financial losses.

Exceptions to Dog Owners’ Liability for Vicious Attacks

While dog bite victims and their families can file claims for just compensation in most cases, there are exceptions. For example, Pennsylvania law provides that just compensation generally isn’t available if:

  • The victim intentionally provoked the dog; or,
  • The victim was trespassing at the time of the attack.

But, both of these exceptions are highly fact-specific, and, in many cases, it won’t be entirely clear whether they apply. For example, a dog’s owner (or the owner’s insurance company) might claim provocation when a child was simply trying to play with what seemed like a friendly dog. Or, a dog’s owner (or the owner’s insurance company) might claim that a victim was trespassing when, in fact, the dog dragged or pushed the victim onto the dog owner’s property.

This raises another important point: When handling dog attack claims, insurance companies will often try to blame victims for their own injuries. By hiring an experienced lawyer to represent you, you can make sure the insurance companies do not take advantage of you.

Protecting Your Legal Rights After a Dog Attack in Pennsylvania

To maximize your chances of recovering just compensation, if you or your child has been bitten by a dog in Pennsylvania, there are some steps you should try to take promptly. For example, to help protect your family’s legal rights, you should:

  • Record the Dog Owner’s Address and Contact Information – If you know where the dog lives, you should write down the owner’s address. If you’re not sure where the dog lives, you should record as much information as possible about where the attack occurred. If you were able to obtain the dog owner’s contact information, be sure to keep this in a safe place as well.
  • Take Detailed Notes About the Attack – Along with recording where the attack occurred, you should write down as many other details as you can remember as well. What breed was the dog? What did the dog’s owner say to you after the attack? Did anyone else see what happened? These types of details could all be important to your claim.
  • Document Your (or Your Child’s) Injuries – You should document your (or your child’s) injuries by taking photos with your phone. Try to keep any medical records you receive from your (or your child’s) healthcare providers as well. These records will be important when it comes to establishing the total value of your dog bite claim.

When in Doubt, Talk to a Lawyer About Your Legal Rights

As we said in the introduction, Pennsylvania’s dog bite laws are complicated, and this means that understanding your legal rights can be challenging. With this in mind, if you have any questions about filing a claim, we strongly recommend that you talk to a lawyer about your legal rights. This costs nothing out of pocket, and by talking to a lawyer, you can ensure that you are making informed decisions with your (and your family’s) best interests in mind.

Talk to a Lawyer About Your Dog Bite Claim in Pennsylvania for Free

With offices in Allentown, Bethlehem, Doylestown, Easton and Stroudsburg, we represent individuals and families in serious dog bite cases throughout Pennsylvania. If you need to know more about filing a claim, we invite you to get in touch. To talk to a lawyer about your dog bite claim in Pennsylvania for free, call 888-777-7098 or tell us how we can get in touch online today.