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Man’s Best Friend Can Pose Serious Challenges for Victims and Lawyers

For the last three and a half decades, I have represented and prosecuted claims on behalf of victims who suffered the ill effects of dog attacks. Some lucky victims escape with minimal scars, while others sustain devastating life-changing injuries requiring extensive hospitalization. Some victims—all too often infants and young children—even succumb to death. Dog attack cases are rarely straightforward, and must be carefully investigated; they often involve complex multiple legal issues and theories of liability.

Statistics indicate that dog bite cases are on the rise nationally and in Pennsylvania. A State Farm insurance report notes that over 5 million dog bites occur each year in America and that close to half a billion dollars are paid out to dog bite victims annually.

Most states have moved from the established common laws governing dog bites. The common law rule states that a dog owner is not liable for injuries unless the dog had dangerous propensities of which the owner was aware. Under common law, it is necessary to prove certain elements that constitute viciousness, such as prior attacks, growling, baring of teeth, and uncontrollable behavior.

Pennsylvania’s Dog Bite Law Offers Two Remedies, Depending Upon Whether the Bite is Classified Severe or Non-Severe

Severe injury is defined as any injury resulting in broken bones, disfigurement, lacerations, or scarring, and which requires multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery. A severely injured victim in Pennsylvania can make a claim against a dog owner for medical expenses and all other losses and legal damages. The victim need only prove that the dog inflicted severe injury without provocation; it does not matter whether the dog previously bit anyone.

Victims of non-severe dog bites can make a claim against a dog owner, but the remedy is limited to medical expenses. Section 502 (b) of the dangerous dog statute states “any cost to the victim for medical treatment resulting from an attacking or biting dog must be fully paid by the owner of such dog.” The victim only has the burden of proving that the defendant was the owner of the dog.

Many individuals and lawyers automatically assume that they have open and shut dog bite claims, but this is rarely the case. Sometimes there is an exception to liability, such a sign that states “Beware of Dog.” And, in some states, the owner of a dog can raise a defense of comparative or contributory negligence, or assumption of the risk.

A skilled dog bite attorney should review all coverage sources and potentially applicable policies, including landlord’s insurance, homeowner’s insurance, and renter’s insurance. He or she must diligently investigate the law of the jurisdiction and all of the surrounding circumstances, and must carefully evaluate present and future damages and injuries sustained by the victim. He or she must also consider who owned the property and who had control of the dog, and whether or not the attack occurred on a business or public property—which may be covered by general liability or umbrella insurance policies.

Our Pennsylvania Dog Bite Attorneys Can Give Your Case the Attention it Deserves

The dog bite attorneys at The Reiff Law Firm have been recognized by their peers as having the highest possible rating in both legal abilities and ethical standards. They are consistently recognized as Pennsylvania Super Lawyers and are members of the National Trial Lawyers Top 100 Trial Attorneys.

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