Dogs can be great family friends, but families have a duty to keep their dogs under control. Unprovoked attacks by dogs can be terrifying experiences, particularly when dog bite victims are children. Pennsylvania recently ranked fourth among all states in the number of reported dog bites.
Dog bites can produce serious injuries. A bite that becomes infected may lead to life-threatening conditions and prolonged hospitalization. A dog that bites a child’s face may cause physical and emotional scarring that will trouble the bite victim well into adulthood.
A Philadelphia dog bite lawyer can help bite victims navigate the confusing laws that define a dog owner’s responsibility for bite injuries. Obtaining prompt legal advice assures that an investigation of potential liability begins before the right to bring legal action is lost.
Dog Bite Liability
Unlike some states, Pennsylvania has not adopted a rule of absolute liability for the owners of dogs that bite humans. Many states have done away with the traditional rule that every dog was entitled to “one free bite.”
The theory behind the traditional rule is that dog owners do not know their dog is likely to bite, and therefore should not be held responsible for the dog’s actions, until the dog actually bites someone. The traditional rule gives a legal remedy to the second bite victim but not the first.
The traditional rule requires the dog bite victim to prove that the dog owner was negligent, or careless, in failing to prevent the dog from biting. That rule usually demands proof that the dog owner had reason to know of the dog’s dangerous tendencies but failed to control the dog’s behavior.
Philadelphia Dog Bite Law
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court modified the traditional rule to impose liability when dog owners violate Pennsylvania’s Dog Law. The Dog Law requires dog owners to keep their dogs inside the premises they occupy or, if the dog is outside, to keep the dog restrained on a leash or chain, or otherwise under the owner’s control. Owners are automatically liable for dog bites that occur while they are disobeying the dog law.
When Philadelphia dog bite victims are bitten by a dog that is not on a leash or inside the owner’s home, the modified law makes it possible to seek compensation without proving that the owner should have known that the dog was dangerous. A Philadelphia dog bite lawyer can help victims recover compensation under those circumstances.
Even if the dog is on a lease or chained in its own yard, however, it may be possible for a bite victim to seek justice from the dog owner. The easiest way to do that is to prove that the dog has bitten at least one other person in the past. Police reports or statements from neighbors may lead to that evidence.
Even if the dog has never bitten another victim, however, it may be possible to prove that the dog has dangerous tendencies that should have alerted the dog owner to the possibility that the dog would bite someone. Growling and rushing at people while straining at the leash is an example of behavior that should place owners on notice that a dog might bite if given the opportunity.
Finally, Pennsylvania law does not require bite victims to prove the owner’s negligence when an unprovoked dog attack inflicts a severe injury. The law defines a severe injury as broken bones or cuts/punctures that require multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery.
Dog Bite Injuries
Superficial bites may not need medical attention. They can often be cleaned and treated with bandages and anti-bacterial ointment. Deep punctures, however, should be treated by a doctor. They often require professional cleaning and stitches to close the wound.
A vicious attack by a large dog can result in broken bones, nerve damage, torn muscles or ligaments, dangerous blood loss, and facial scarring. Even a bite by a small dog, however, can result in complications.
Infection is the most common complication of a dog bite. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Infection, one in five dog bites result in an infection. While it is no longer common for dog bite victims to contract rabies, infections can produce serious illnesses. Bacteria that are often found in a dog’s mouth include:
- Pasteurella, a type of bacteria that produces reddening, swelling, and intense pain at the site of the bite. Some people, particularly those with weakened immune systems, develop serious diseases after exposure to pasteurella.
- Clostridium tetani, a type of bacteria that can produce tetanus, particularly when the bite wound is deep.
- MRSA, a type of Staph infection that can cause lung, skin, and urinary tract infections. An MRSA infection can be dangerous because the bacteria are resistant to antibiotics.
Children often suffer bites to the face simply because their small size brings their faces into proximity with the dog’s mouth. Apart from other complications, children are more likely to suffer from facial scars that will require cosmetic surgery.
Dog Bite Compensation
A Philadelphia dog bite lawyer can help bite victims obtain compensation for their injuries, particularly when the dog owner is also a home owner. Dog bite injuries usually fall within the scope of homeowner’s insurance.
Compensation pays for medical and hospital bills required to treat the dog bite and any resulting infections or other complications. Compensation can pay for cosmetic surgery to correct scarring, and for the anticipated cost of future surgery if more than one procedure will be required.
Both children and adults can develop post-traumatic stress disorder when an injury causes extreme and lasting anxiety. Compensation can pay for the cost of PTSD treatment.
Adults who miss work while obtaining treatment for a bite or infection, or while recovering from their injuries, are entitled to compensation for their wage loss. All dog bite victims are entitled to compensation for pain, suffering, and emotional distress that accompanies the dog bite and its complications.
Philadelphia Dog Bite Lawyer
Dog bite law in Pennsylvania is complex. Since the state legislature has not joined other states in adopting automatic liability for dog owners when their dogs harm another person, each case needs to be investigated and analyzed carefully. An experienced Philadelphia dog bite attorney gives bite victims the best chance of recovering compensation for their injuries. Call (610) 660-7780 or fill out our contact form to get help from our dog bite attorneys in Pennsylvania today.