Experienced Dog Bite Injury Lawyer Representing Victims Across Pennsylvania
The owner of a dog that attacks a person may be held responsible for the victim's injuries. To be successful in winning a dog bite case, it must be shown that the owner knew or had reason to know that his or her dog had a “vicious propensity.” In other words, it must be shown that the owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous or could bite someone.
At the personal injury law firm of Mattiacci Law, we have years of experience in handling dog bite claims in Philadelphia and across Pennsylvania. Our attorneys have successfully recovered money for clients in a variety of dog bite cases. Some of these cases have involved children being bitten by dogs, people being bitten by dogs while in public areas, and delivery drivers who have been bitten while making a delivery at someone's home.
Contact a skilled Philadelphia dog bite lawyer at our firm today for a free consultation.
What is the “One Bite” Rule?
There is a defense that is used in the United States to defend against dog bite claims. That defense is usually referred to as the "one bite rule" or the "one free bite rule." The argument is that an owner cannot know a dog is dangerous or has vicious tendencies unless it actually bites someone. If you are are the first person bitten by the dog, the owner argues that he or she should not be responsible as the dog had not bitten anyone in the past.
This is not the law in Pennsylvania. There is no such thing as “one free bite” under Pennsylvania law. In Pennsylvania, a dog can be shown to have vicious propensities even if it did not bite anyone in the past.
According to John Mattiacci, an experienced dog bite attorney, if an owner knows his or her dog lunges at people, snaps at people, barks loudly, or is difficult to control, those facts may be enough to show that the dog was potentially dangerous. Also, if the dog had been aggressive toward other pets or had bitten other animals, this can also be important evidence to show a dog's vicious propensity. The key is investigating the case thoroughly to uncover as much information as possible.
Common Injuries from Dog Bite Cases
Dog bites can cause horrific injuries. These can include severe lacerations, puncture wounds, muscle damage, nerve damage, and permanent scarring and disfigurement.
Children are at particular risk of facial injuries from dog bite cases. Given children's shorter heights, their faces are usually closer to the same level as a dog's face. When a dog bites a child's face the results can be devastating. Depending on the severity of the bite, a child may require plastic surgery, revision surgeries, and suffer serious tissue damage and scarring.
Dogs can also bite adults on the face, but bites to the legs, hands, and arms are also very common. Regardless of where on the body a dog bites a person, the injuries can be dire.
What to do After a Dog Bite
There are a number of things that can be done after a dog bite. First and foremost, call 911 if you require emergency care. Otherwise, seek medical treatment. Prompt medical attention is incredibly important, especially for lacerations or bites that may require stitches or surgery. If a dog bite results in grievous injuries, such as significant loss of blood or facial injuries, calling 911 or seeking immediate emergency treatment may be necessary even before attempting to clean or dress a wound. When in doubt, call 911.
There are a number of immediate steps that can be done to clean the wound and dress it even before getting to a doctor. According to the Cleveland Clinic, this includes:
- Washing the bite wound. It is recommended to use a mild soap and to wash the area with warm water for five to ten minutes.
- Slow the bleeding. Apply a clean cloth to the area to slow the loss of blood.
- Apply an over-the counter antibiotic cream. Use a recommended amount of antibiotic ointment or cream over the area.
- Bandage the wound. Use a sterile bandage or dressing around the wound until you see your doctor.
- Be on the lookout for signs of infection. Infection is one of the greatest risks of dog bites. A doctor can inform you as to the specific warnings signs to look for, including swelling, pain, fever, redness, and odor.
Treatment after a dog bite will also include an assessment of whether vaccinations should be given. A tetanus booster is common. In certain circumstances, a doctor may want to administer rabies shots. This generally involves a series of injections given to the victim over a course of 14 days. Seeking immediate medical care is important so that an initial shot can be given as quickly as possible after the attack.
Also, it is important to report the incident to authorities. The local police and health department should be notified of the attack. This will often trigger an investigation into the incident. Police or county or township authorities will determine whether the dog must be quarantined or evaluated for rabies. Dog owners may also be cited for a violation of the law, especially if the animal is a dangerous dog and the owner failed to comply with the law in keeping the dog restrained.
Pennsylvania also permits people to submit a complaint about a dog bite or other issue through the state's website. However, it is wise to contact a Pennsylvania dog bite lawyer for advice and help before reporting an incident. The lawyer can assist in notifying the proper authorities and submitting information about the incident. It may be wise to speak to an dog bite attorney prior to submitting an online complaint to ensure the complaint is made with all necessary information.
Investigating Dog Bite Cases
A thorough investigation helps build a stronger case against a dog's owner after a dog bite. The dog bite attorneys at our firm perform detailed investigations into the history of the dog and owner. This investigation often includes evaluating the owner’s actions in training, socializing, handling, and exercising the dog. Many times, a dog's behavior is a result of the training or lack thereof provided by an owner. If an owner does not properly control, socialize, and train an animal, it can cause or contribute to the animal's tendency or willingness to bite someone.
Helpful information about the dog's past, including prior aggressiveness or attacks, may be obtained from witnesses. This can include speaking with neighbors, delivery workers familiar with the property, or others that may have knowledge of the dog or its history. Some of this can be determined before suit is filed, while other times it is necessary to subpoena people after suit is filed to get additional information.
Our firm has also worked with local governments to investigate dog bites. In Pennsylvania, many counties and townships have employees who will investigate when dogs or other domestic animals bite people. They also may record if a dog bites another dog or animal. This may be done by a county health department or even a local police force.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania also has a Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, which is organized under the state's Department of Agriculture. The Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement regulates the activities of dogs who are classified as dangerous under the state's laws. The Bureau also administers licensing and rabies vaccinations for dogs in the commonwealth.
What is a Dangerous Dog Under Pennsylvania Law?
Pennsylvania has a written law that defines a "dangerous dog." If a dog is found to be a dangerous dog under the law then the owner can be convicted of harboring a dangerous dog. The statute is 3 P.S. Agriculture § 459-502-A.
In order for a dog to be a "dangerous dog" under Pennsylvania law, it must have:
(i) Inflicted severe injury on a human being without provocation on public or private property.
(ii) Killed or inflicted severe injury on a domestic animal, dog or cat without provocation while off the owner's property.
(iii) Attacked a human being without provocation.
(iv) Been used in the commission of a crime.
In addition to one of the actions listed above, the dog must also have one or both of the following:
(1) A history of attacking human beings and/or domestic animals, dogs or cats without provocation.
(2) A propensity to attack human beings and/or domestic animals, dogs or cats without provocation.
Under the statute, a propensity to attack may be proven by a single incident. Also, an attack on a human does not necessarily mean a bite, and certain cases have shown that aggressively chasing people, among other things, may be sufficient.
An experienced dog bite lawyer will use this statute to help make a case for liability against a dog owner. If a victim can present evidence that a dog has a history of inflicting severe injury, killing or severely injuring another domestic animal while off the owner's property, or attacking a human without provocation, then an argument can be made that dog qualifies as a "dangerous dog" under the statute. If the owner didn't take adequate steps to secure the dangerous dog, it bolsters the argument that the owner is responsible for any attack.
Finding All Potential Parties
The Philadelphia dog bite lawyers at the firm make every effort to identify everyone who may be responsible for a dog bite. This includes not only the owner of the dog but also dog walkers, the landlord of the property where the dog is kept or was located, the breeder or seller of the dog, and any person that trained it.
At times, people will rescue dogs and assume responsibility for those animals. It is important for rescues, relocation services, and shelters to provide as much information as possible about a dog's history and socialization. If such information is available, it should be given to people who consider adopting or rescuing a pet.
If the shelter or rescue fails to disclose a history of aggressive tendencies or attacks, it could potentially lead to a claim against them.
Call a Philadelphia Dog Bite Injury Attorney Today
If you have been injured by a dog, your first priority is to seek medical attention. Your second priority, however, is to speak with an experienced Pennsylvania dog bite lawyer. Contact our firm today for a free, no-obligation initial consultation, either by filling out our online contact page or by calling my toll-free number at (866) 617-0050.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What kinds of damages might I be entitled to?
Three types of damages are available in Pennsylvania, depending on the circumstances.
- Economic damages are easily countable losses such as medical bills, lost wages, future lost earning capacity, and related expenses.
Non-economic damages are compensation for physical and psychological harm, including physical pain and suffering, loss of life’s pleasures, embarrassment and humiliation, and mental harm and anxiety.
- Punitive damages may awarded in certain cases where the defendant’s conduct was more than just negligence, but was willful, wanton, or showed reckless indifference to the rights of another (e.g., taking no actions to restrain or leash a dog that has bitten someone in the past and knowingly allowing the dog to roam free around other people).
The dog owner is my next door neighbor. Will pressing a claim against him drive him into bankruptcy?
Probably not, as long as he maintains homeowners or renters insurance. These types of policies commonly pay out on dog bite claims, although the policy might contain certain loopholes (a coverage exclusion for pit bull attacks, for example). Generally, it is uncommon for a defendant to be driven into bankruptcy in all but the most significant cases. Most times, claims and lawsuits are resolved for the available insurance coverage.
How much do homeowners insurance policies pay out in claims for dog bite injuries every year?
Homeowners insurance policies pay out about $600 million per year to dog bite victims, representing about a third of all homeowners insurance claims. Renters insurance policies pay out still more. The value of each claim is dependent on the facts of that specific case.
How much is the average insurance payout for a dog bite claim?
The Insurance Information Institute estimates the average payout at $33,230 for 2016. Remember that this is only an average – the amount awarded depends largely on the severity of your injuries. This figure often includes more than just medical expenses. The value of each case must be determined based on facts of each specific incident and the extent of the injuries. Also, there also can be no recovery at all if it cannot be proven that an owner had notice of a dog's vicious tendencies. This is another reason why getting an experience Philadelphia dog bite lawyer is helpful.
What are the main defenses against dog bite claims?
The two most common defenses are:
- Trespassing: Although trespassers generally cannot recover for dog bites, remember that you are not a trespasser as long as you had a legal right to be where you were at the time of the attack.
- Provocation: Your claim might be defeated if you provoked the dog. However, the question of whether the provocation was “sufficient” is where opposing parties sometimes fight it out in court, or at the settlement table.
Can a tenant dog owner’s landlord be held liable?
Yes, under certain circumstances. It may be easier to win a claim against an “in possession landlord” (who lives or works on the premises) than to win a claim against an “out of possession” (absentee) landlord. Either way, however, you will have to show notice and negligence on the part of the landlord. This is something that depends on the facts of each specific case.
How does the statute of limitations work for a dog bite claim?
In Pennsylvania, you generally have two years from the date of the attack to file a lawsuit. If you fail to file a lawsuit in this time, your claim will almost certainly be forever barred. Settlement negotiations will also be impossible, since the defendant will have no motivation to negotiate with you if he or she knows you can’t take your case to court. This is why it is important to contact an experienced dog bite lawyer immediately after an attack.
Does it make any difference if I was hurt while separating two fighting dogs?
Technically it makes no difference, unless one of the fighting dogs was your own and it was your own dog that bit you. Some defendants may try to make a assertion of mistaken identity in order to escape liability, however.
How can I afford to hire a lawyer?
You don’t need to front any money to hire the dog bite attorneys at our firm. We do not change any advance fees – instead, any attorney fee can be contingent and is paid as a percentage of your eventual compensation. Our firm is only paid if we recover money in the case. If there is no recovery, there is no fee. We are only paid if we win.