Can You Sue a Dog Owner If Their Dog Attacks You in Philadelphia?
Dogs are everywhere. They’re loyal pets, hard-working police dogs, and serve in many other capacities throughout Pennsylvania and the United States as a whole. Dogs are the most popular animals to have as pets, with an estimated 48 million American households having at least one dog.
In many cases, that’s a good thing. Dogs can provide companionship and protection. They can help soothe people with PTSD and ensure that people with low and no vision can safely navigate the world. However, dogs can also threaten your safety, especially if they are not adequately trained, cared for, and restrained.
Philadelphia Dog Attacks Statistics: A Surprising Picture
When most people think of dogs, they imagine friendly, lovable family pets. However, the frightening truth is that even the most loving pets can become threats to your health and safety. Dog attacks occur with frightening regularity in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas. Here’s what you should know from the state’s Department of Health:
- Each year, close to 800 dog bites occur in Pennsylvania alone, with almost 200 of those in Philadelphia County. In comparison, 45 million people are bitten in the US per year.
- The average claim cost for the state is $64,000.
- Dog bite claims have jumped a staggering 27% in just the last few years. However, the overall trend for the nation is down.
- Nationwide, only 15.55% of bites are from strays. The majority are from pets.
- Insurance companies often deny coverage or increase claims for breeds deemed “dangerous” or “large.”
- The breeds with the most bites to their credit are:
- Pit bulls
- Mixed breeds
- German shepherds
- Unneutered male dogs were responsible for 76% of all dog bites and are almost three times more likely to bite than neutered dogs.
Who Is Most Likely to Be Attacked in Philadelphia?
You might assume that everyone has the same risk of being attacked by a dog, assuming equal exposure to the same breeds and the same situations. However, that’s not the case. Nationwide, the statistics break down as follows:
- Children have the highest risk of being attacked by a dog. This is mainly because children, particularly young children, may engage in behavior that provokes the dog, such as pulling ears or tails. Children between the ages of five and nine years of age are the most likely to be attacked.
- Seniors have the least likelihood of being attacked by a dog, particularly those aged 85 or older. This may be due to the fact that seniors are less likely to encounter dogs in the first place.
- Men are more likely to be attacked than women. Over 52% of all dog attacks involve men, while just over 47% involve women. Men are also more likely to be involved in fatal dog attacks.
Dog bites happen regularly. What are your options if you find yourself in this situation? Can you sue the owner if their dog attacks you in Philadelphia? Yes, you can, but there are a few things you’ll need to know.
What to Know If A Dog Attacks You and Decide to Sue
Dog bite attacks are covered under most homeowner’s insurance policies and Pennsylvania state law. If someone else’s dog attacks you or a loved one, you have rights. You can sue for medical expenses and other damages, including lost wages and pain and suffering. However, there are mitigating factors to understand here.
Does Pennsylvania Have a One Bite Rule?
Some states in the US have adopted a one-bite rule. This essentially says that the dog’s owner is liable for the animal’s actions if they know or should have known (due to previous behavior) that the dog might act aggressively. Pennsylvania does not follow this model.
Instead, Pennsylvania uses a strict dog attack statute that says the owner is always liable for the animal’s aggressive behavior, even if the dog has never bitten anyone or acted aggressively before.
Severe Dog Bite
First, you can only sue the owner if you were the victim of a severe dog bite. That means minor bites do not qualify. What counts as “severe,” though? According to Pennsylvania law, a severe bite is “any physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery.”
What does that mean for you and your dog bite case? But, if the bite did not require sutures to close or cosmetic surgery to repair, then chances are good that you cannot sue the dog owner. That said, Pennsylvania law does require owners to pay for the medical treatment of non-serious bites. You do not have to prove negligence in these instances or that the owner was at fault. The owner is not required to pay for pain and suffering with non-severe bites, though.
However, if the injury was severe enough, you may be able to bring a lawsuit, so long as you meet other criteria.
The Question of Provocation
To sue the owner of a dog after you’ve been bitten, you must prove that you did not provoke the animal. Provocation automatically makes you at fault. This means that you cannot have incited, encouraged, or provoked the dog into attacking you.
For example, you could be considered as provoking the dog if you were visiting a friend at their home and got into a heated argument with the other person. You could also be considered to have provoked the dog if you struck the dog physically. These are just two examples of provocative behavior. An experienced Philadelphia dog bite attorney can help you understand this better and where your behavior might have fallen on the spectrum from benign to provocative.
If you were the victim of a severe dog attack, you must also be able to prove that the owner acted negligently in terms of constraining/restraining their dog. This may take many forms, including the following:
- The dog had previously exhibited aggressive behavior, but the owner failed to take appropriate measures to control the dog. For instance, the owner might have been walking the dog on public property but not had the animal muzzled, leading to a bite.
- The owner should have known the dog had aggressive tendencies but failed to take the appropriate steps. For instance, if the dog is of a breed known to the state to pose a risk of aggression, but the owner fails to restrain it correctly, leading to a bite.
You must then prove to the court that the owner’s negligent behavior led directly to your injury. For example, the owner was walking a dog without a muzzle, and the dog bit you as you walked past. The bite occurred because the owner failed in their duty of care.
This leads to the question - how do you prove negligence in a dog bite case? In a worst-case scenario, it could be a “they said, you said” situation. However, that’s rarely the case. Often, you can use the following to help you prove that the owner acted negligently:
- Witness Statements - Dog bites often occur where witnesses can corroborate your statements. This is particularly true for dog bites that occur in public places like parks or on sidewalks, but witnesses may also be able to corroborate events that occurred on private property.
- Photographs/Videos - You should always photograph your injuries. If you have the presence of mind, try to get a photo of the dog and the owner. If any witnesses were taking photos or video footage of the event, try to collect this, too.
- Medical Records - You’ll need to prove that you suffered from a severe dog attack if you intend to sue the dog’s owner. Your medical records will be invaluable in this. X-rays, doctor statements, and treatment descriptions can all help to establish the severity of your injury.
- Evidence of Prior Attacks - To establish that the dog owner knew or should have known about the animal’s likelihood to attack, collect evidence of prior attacks.
Hire an Experienced Dog Bite Attorney in Philadelphia
Proving negligence is never a simple matter. While you might feel that the merits of your case are obvious, don’t assume that a judge will automatically side with you. It’s essential to choose an experienced Philadelphia dog bite attorney who can help you understand the ins and outs of your case, assess your situation, and help you chart a course forward. The right attorney can provide you with peace of mind and a sound strategy to help provide the best chance of a positive outcome. When choosing your attorney, you must consider their experience, as well as their reputation with past clients. How many dog bite cases have they successfully handled? What kinds of results have they garnered for their clients?
Reach Out to Mattiacci Law Today in Philadelphia
At Mattiaci Law, our experienced dog bite attorneys have worked with people just like you throughout Philadelphia and the surrounding areas. We understand the challenges involved in suing a dog owner after their dog attacks you, and we can help you fight for the damages that you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation and learn how we can help. There is hope after the pain and trauma of a dog bite. Best of all, you don’t pay a dime until we win your case so that you can move forward with peace of mind.
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