What Evidence Do I Need to Win a Dog Bite Settlement in Pennsylvania?

  • September 01, 2022
  • Blog

Dogs may be man’s best friend, but they can also injure people severely when they bite. In Pennsylvania, dog owners are entirely liable for injuries caused by their dogs. Unless the bite occurred under exceptional circumstances, such as a dog biting an intruder in the home, dog owners must pay for the victim’s medical bills, lost income, pain and suffering, and other damages in a Dog bite settlement.

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Most homeowners insurance policies have liability provisions that cover the policyholder if their dog bites someone, even when the incident occurs off the property. As a result, most dog bite cases result in the victim receiving compensation. In addition, when dog bites occur at a business, the establishment's owner may incur liability.

If you have sustained injuries from a dog bite, chances are good that you have a solid personal injury case.

What to Do If a Dog Attacks in Pennsylvania

To help prevent an attack, be aware of signs a dog may be intending to bite. Calm, safe dogs move in a relaxed fashion. An agitated, dangerous dog will appear stiff, make jerky movements, or remain tight and still. 

In addition, resist the temptation to approach a tied dog. It may feel threatened by its restricted mobility and bite. Always ask permission of the dog’s owner before approaching or petting a dog. Announce yourself and wait for a reply before coming onto a property with dogs.

However, we have seen many cases where dog attacks happen for no discernable reason. A loose dog can lash out without its owner present to restrain it, or the owner of a vicious dog may allow it too much liberty or find himself unable to command and control the animal. Certain breeds are prone to attack; some dogs have been trained as guard dogs or fighting animals, and some illnesses make dogs aggressive. 

If a dog attacks you, do your best to stay calm. Panic may induce the dog to continue the assault. Use whatever is available to protect yourself, such as a purse, computer bag, backpack, umbrella, jacket, tree limb, or anything else handy. Look for opportunities to climb to a high place, such as on top of a car, up a tree, or onto a roof. Avoid turning your back on the animal, making eye contact, or squaring off. These moves often escalate attacks.

If your dog attacks someone or you witness a canine mauling another person, try to remain calm and avoid shouting, which can spur the dog to continue biting. Instead, grab the dog’s hind legs and pick them up into the air. Dogs usually quit fighting once their rear end is elevated. If a hose is nearby, spray the animal.  

After the Attack in Pennsylvania

After sustaining a dog bite or prolonged attack, you likely have serious injuries. Call 911 even if the injuries seem mild. You need to report the incident to animal control, and the bite could be more serious than it initially appears. If you are hurt, you have a claim against the animal’s owner. Receiving prompt treatment establishes what injuries resulted from the attack. 

If you can, write down any witnesses' names and contact information. Taking pictures and videos of your injuries, the scene, and the dog with your cell phone provides additional evidence. Also, make a record of any circumstance that shows the owner’s negligence, such as a hole in a fence the dog slipped through.

A copy of the police and animal control report is also crucial evidence. Perhaps most importantly, there is your witness statement. As soon as possible, write down your recollection of the events leading to the bite, the attack itself, and what occurred immediately afterward. 

You may have damaged property, such as clothing torn by the dog. Keep these items as physical evidence of the attack.

When receiving medical attention, explain exactly where and how you sustained the injuries to the provider. Also, discuss injuries less evident than the bite itself. For instance, if you fell during the attack and hurt your knee, twisted your ankle, or aggravated an existing medical condition. 

Your initial visit starts the process of generating the medical evidence that ties your injuries to the incident. Proving your dog bite case will require these and all follow-up medical visit records. These documents also show the cost of your medical care.

Lucky dog bite victims have only minor injuries that quickly heal. However, a strong bite or a prolonged attack usually ends with the victim in the hospital and experiencing substantial pain and suffering. Keeping a journal of your ordeal helps establish the general damages in your cases, such as pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life.

Pennsylvania Is a Strict Liability State

Pennsylvania law enshrines a strict liability standard for dog bite cases. Under this rule, dog owners receive no protection from so-called “one-bite laws”. In states with one-bite laws, dog owners have no presumptive liability for a dog bite unless the animal has bitten someone before. To win, the plaintiff must prove negligence, such as failing to keep the dog on a leash.

In Pennsylvania, a dog owner bears legal responsibility when their dog attacks a person regardless of whether the dog was always peaceful before. As a result, plaintiffs do not need to prove an owner’s negligence. 

For plaintiffs, this means that their personal injury case succeeds provided they can prove the dog bit them and demonstrate damages. However, certain exceptions exist. A plaintiff can lose a dog bite case–despite proving the bite and damages–if the defendant succeeds with one of these affirmative defenses:

The Plaintiff Intentionally Provoked the Dog 

For instance, a mugging is considered a provocation. Other provocations include scaring the dog in its sleep, taking away its food or toys, or abusing the animal. 

Trespassing on the Owners Property

Dogs instinctively protect their territory. If you illegally come onto a person’s property and the dog bites you, it’s likely the owner has no liability. For example, a person who creeps into a driveway at night to steal from a vehicle and is bitten by a guard dog has no personal injury claim. He was committing a crime, and the dog’s actions were in defense against it.

The Bite Occurred in the Commission of Another Type of Crime

Dogs react to many forms of criminal activity to protect people and property and may legally be trained to do so. Therefore, when a dog bites someone committing a crime, it is unlikely the owner will face any liability. Crimes that may provoke a dog include burglary, battery, assault, abduction, auto theft, robbery, petty theft, and other offenses.

Service and Police Dogs

Liability shields also exist for service dogs and police dogs. If the service- or police dog bites someone in performing their duties, the owner is not liable. For instance, a suspect fleeing the police who sustains a forearm injury from a police dog giving pursuit is an exception to strict liability. 

Proving Dog Attack Damages

Pennsylvania law provides for personal injury victims to receive economic and general damages. Monetary damages include the money the injury costs you, while general damages represent the non-economic impacts of the injury. To collect all your damages, proving your case and the owner’s responsibility is not enough. You must also prove that the dollar amount you request is justified.

Economic Damages

Economic damages are the easiest to prove. Because they equate to an exact dollar figure, little subjectivity is involved. For example, if you show the dog bite resulted in medical treatment or lost wages, the court can easily tabulate the cost to you.

Economic damages in Pennsylvania dog bite cases include the following:

  • Ambulance charges
  • Emergency room treatment
  • Medications
  • Physician office visits
  • Surgeries
  • Lost wages
  • Lost salary
  • Lost fringe benefits
  • Lost self-employment income
  • Lost business revenue

To establish your economic damages, obtain itemized bills and records for all medical appointments or tests. In addition, obtain itemized bills for all related medications, bandages, or assistive devices. Plaintiffs also have entitlement to transportation to medical appointments, including mileage and parking.

Loss of and damage to the personal property also counts as economic damage. For instance, if the dog destroyed clothing, shoes, jewelry, eyeglasses, or other objects in your possession. Make sure to keep receipts of all money spent to replace these items.

Serious dog bite injuries can also result in lost income. Hourly workers may lose wages, and salaried employees may exceed their paid time off. Benefits may also be impacted. Workers lacking comprehensive benefits may lose their jobs, leading to more extensive damage. Keep documents of your previous pay rate and notes on lost hours or salary. If you lose your job because you cannot work, save all documents related to the termination.

Self-employed people often suffer a difficult blow when an injury knocks them out of commission. Because many lacks paid time off, they may start losing income as soon as the attack disables them. Therefore, keeping records of all past work and the impact of the injury on present and future work is essential.

Proving General Damages in Dog Bite Settlement

General damages are more subjective and therefore harder to prove. Insurance company attorneys try to reduce general damages by arguing that the plaintiff’s pain and suffering and other non-financial repercussions are non-existent or worth far less than the plaintiff contends. For this reason, a dog bite claim needs substantial evidence to back up general damages.

General damages fall into several categories, including the following:

  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Loss of enjoyment of life
  • Loss of consortium
  • Inconvenience

As with economic damages, plaintiffs should keep any documentation showing general damages in the above categories. In addition, keeping a journal on how the injury impacted your life helps determine how much in general damages to pursue.

Most dog bite cases cause at least some pain and suffering. However, when injuries are severe, they can lead to prolonged pain and emotional distress and have a profound effect on the victim’s ability to lead their life as usual.

For instance, severe bite wounds may cause long-lasting pain and even require surgery. 

Keeping a record of the pain level and the hardships of surgery helps establish pain and suffering. In addition, the time and costs of medical procedures can result in emotional distress, as can long periods of isolation at home while recovering. Finally, scarring, especially on the face, may require extensive surgery at a tremendous financial and emotional cost.

Other damages may include the inability to care for children, canceled activities, such as vacations or sports, and impacts on careers, such as lost jobs or promotions due to absences resulting from the injury.

When your attorney has a timeline of the injuries impacting you, he or she can use it to demonstrate the difficulties caused by the incident and win extensive damages.

Pennsylvania Law Supports Dog Bite Victims

In Pennsylvania, dog bite victims are likely to win a Dog bite settlement in court. Unless an exception applies, the owner is liable even if the dog has never bitten a person. The plaintiff is entitled to economic and general damages. Severe Dog bite settlement cases, where individuals sustain crippling injuries and scarring, can easily be worth as much as serious car accident cases. A single bite can do extensive damage, and a prolonged attack may leave the victim in intense pain and with lifelong disabilities.

Call Today For A Free Consultation From An Experienced Philadelphia Dog Bite Settlement Attorney

If you’ve suffered injury from a dog bite, you have a strong case against its owner. Contact Mattiacci Law for a free, confidential consultation.

Related Content: Is It Worth Hiring a Personal Injury Attorney in Philadelphia?

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