DOG BITE LAW
Liability for Your Dog
Before 1996 in Pennsylvania, owners and keepers of dogs were allowed to escape liability for the first bite. The theory was that the owner could not have known that his dog had a propensity to attack a human being until it had proven so by biting someone. Thus, dog owners and keepers were entitled to "one free bite" without liability.
In 1996 that changed. The Pennsylvania Dog Law of 1982 was amended in 1996 and is commonly known as the Dangerous Dog Statute. The important part of those Amendments holds the owner or keeper of the dog responsible for an unprovoked attack upon a human being. There is no more "one free bite". The propensity to attack may be proven by the first bite.
The change in the Civil Law regarding liability had its roots in the Criminal Law of Pennsylvania. According to the Amendments the owner or keeper of a dog can be criminally guilty if the dog has attacked a human being without provocation. That Criminal Law specifically says that a propensity attack may be proven by a single incident. Both the owner or the keeper of the dog can be held responsible. So, if someone asks you to watch their dog for the weekend, you are responsible if that dog bites someone.
The lesson in Pennsylvania is that if you are attacked by a dog, there is close to automatic liability if you are the owner or keeper of the dog.
Dog Bite Damages
The next question is how badly you were hurt. Dog bites injuries range anything from minor cuts to death. Usually, there are bite wounds that leave scars. The money value of the scar depends on where the scar is located and the size of the scar. For example, if the scar was on the face of a child who would have to wear the scar for the rest of his life, damages are on the high end. Likewise, if the scar was in any other exposed area such as the face, neck or hands, damages will be higher. On the other end, if the scar is on the leg of a grown man and it is small, the damages decrease.
Often, people bitten by dogs, develop a fear of dogs as well. This is another component of legal damages.
Other elements of damages in dog bite cases can include wage loss if the dog bite caused you to miss work. There are also medical bills to be paid. Sometimes, plastic surgery is needed to reduce the size or otherwise minimize the effects of scaring. That is often seen as a cosmetic procedure and not medically necessary under most insurance. So, it will not be covered and therefore it becomes another element of damages to be recovered.
Dog Bite Money
Finally, your attorney and you need to figure out if you can get any money for your dog bite. Attorneys and their clients like insurance coverage. They do not like shaking down people for their money because most people don't have thousands of dollars to settle a dog bite case. As the saying goes, you can't get blood from a stone.
Most attorneys will determine quickly whether there is a homeowner insurance policy. Since most homeowners have mortgages, banks require them to have homeowner insurance. That insurance normally has coverage for dog bites. So homeowners who own or keep dogs are targets of dog bite claims.
Renters who own or keep a dog that bites someone often have no insurance coverage. Sometimes they carry renters insurance that has liability protection, but not usually. If a renter owns or keeps a dog that bites you, often there is no recourse because there is no insurance coverage and no insurance money.
A landlord who knows that a renter has a dog on the premises may have coverage under a commercial insurance coverage. This is a question that needs to answered quickly and early in your claim.