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Who Is Legally Responsible for the Actions of a Dog?

Every year, hundreds of victims get sent to hospitals in Pennsylvania for injuries caused by dog attacks. These incidents can inflict serious, catastrophic and even deadly injuries. In Pennsylvania, state law makes those who own and control dogs strictly liable – or legally and financially responsible – for paying for a victim’s medical costs. Discuss your case with a dog bite injury lawyer in Pittsburgh for advice on how to hold someone legally responsible for the actions of a dog.

Pennsylvania Dog Bite Law

Common law states that it is generally a dog owner that is legally responsible for injuries caused to others by the pet. In Pennsylvania, while there is not a specific dog bite statute, the precedent set by previous cases gives pet owners a duty to ensure that their dogs do not cause injury to others. If an injury is inflicted, the owner will be held strictly liable for damages caused by the injury. These damages can include the victim’s medical bills, property damage, lost wages, and pain and suffering, depending on the case.

A strict liability law does not require proof that the pet owner was negligent or had reason to know that a dog had vicious propensities. In a one-bite state, on the other hand, dog bite injury victims must show that the owner knew or reasonably should have known based on a previous incident that the dog might bite. Under a strict liability rule, it is enough to demonstrate that the injury was caused by the dog and that the defendant was the owner or controller at the time.

Third-Party Liability for a Dog Attack

The owner of a dog typically refers to the person who purchased or adopted the animal. If someone else is keeping, harboring or controlling the dog at the time of the incident, however, the definition of owner can include them. This may mean a relative of the pet owner, a friend who is watching the dog or a paid dog walker is liable for the dog bite injury. Whoever was in control of the dog at the time of the attack could be held liable for resultant damages. 

In some cases, a landlord in Pennsylvania could be held legally responsible for the actions of a dog on the premises. If the landlord reasonably should have done more to protect lawful visitors and tenants on a rental property from dog bite injuries – such as by enforcing dog breed restrictions or size maximums, responding promptly to complaints about an aggressive dog on the property, or limiting the number of dogs a tenant can have – he or she could be held liable for an attack that occurs on the premises. Getting in contact with a premises liability attorney in Pittsburgh can help you determine liability in your specific dog attack case. 

How to Prove a Dog Bite Injury Case

In Pennsylvania, it is generally not necessary to prove that a pet owner was negligent to recover financial compensation from his or her insurance company for a dog bite injury. However, in some cases, a victim may need to prove that the defendant knew about the dog’s viciousness prior to the attack. This may require evidence such as:

  • Previous legal action taken against the pet owner for an attack
  • A dog bite injury reported to the local animal control center
  • A previous victim’s hospital records
  • An adopted dog’s history of viciousness while at an animal shelter
  • Complaints made by neighbors or the community
  • Eyewitness accounts of the attack
  • Testimony regarding the dog behaving aggressively, such as growling or chasing

It may also be necessary to base a dog bite injury claim on the legal doctrine of negligence. This means that the dog owner or keeper failed to use reasonable care or did not take the necessary precautions to prevent a dog attack. If the dog had been declared dangerous and the pet owner was legally required to muzzle it on walks, for example, failing to do so is evidence of negligence. Hiring an experienced personal injury attorney in Pittsburgh may be necessary to prove your dog bite injury case. Request a free case review with a lawyer today at (800) 777-4081.

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