Dog Bite Laws in Pennslyvania

December 22, 2022

Dog bite injuries are more common than you may realize. The number of dog bite cases is rising nationwide, with Pennsylvania experiencing one of the biggest increases. Pennsylvania has dog bite laws to compensate victims of dog bites in many circumstances. If you have been bitten by a dog in Pennsylvania, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries. 

An Overview of Pennsylvania Dog Bite Laws

Pennsylvania law on dog bites creates limited strict liability for dog bites. That means that a dog owner must pay the victim's medical expenses, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the bite. 

In addition, Pennsylvania law requires the dog to go into quarantine at an animal control authority following a dog bite. Once a dog has bitten someone or another animal, Pennsylvania law may classify the dog as a dangerous dog, imposing significant duties on the dog owner. 

Pennsylvania "Dangerous Dog" Statute

Pennsylvania law classifies some dogs as " dangerous dogs," and owners of these dogs have greater responsibilities than other dog owners. Dogs are considered a dangerous animal on an individual basis, considering the dog's history. The classification is not based on breed. 

To be classified as a dangerous dog, the dog must have either a history or propensity — which can be proven with just a single incident — of attacking humans or domestic animals without being provoked. In addition, the dog must have done one of the following:

  • Severely injured a person without being provoked. A severe injury involves broken bones or a laceration that requires stitches or cosmetic surgery. The injury may have occurred on public or private property.
  • Killed or severely injured a domestic animal, dog, or cat without being provoked, but only if done somewhere other than the dog owner’s property.
  • Attacked a person without being provoked.
  • Been used to commit a crime.

Some types of dogs never qualify as dangerous dogs, including police dogs, assistance dogs for individuals with a disability, and farm dogs that did not leave the farm to attack. 

In addition, if the dog was provoked or attacked, or if the victim was willfully trespassing or committing some other act that could have subjected the victim to civil liability, the dangerous dog provisions do not apply.

The Duties of an Owner With Dangerous Dogs

Owning a dangerous dog comes with many legal duties that are above and beyond those for other types of dogs. These include the following:

  • Special registration. Dangerous dogs must be registered with the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement annually, which requires the payment of an annual registration fee of $500. The dangerous dog registry is listed by county.
  • Proper enclosure.  Dangerous dogs must have a proper enclosure if the dog is kept outdoors. The enclosure may be a pen or a structure, but it must both keep the dog from escaping as well as prevent kids or domestic animals from getting in. Among other requirements, the enclosure must have a top and protect the dog from the elements.
  • Protective measures outside the enclosure. When the dog is outside its enclosure, a responsible person must be in control of the dog, and the dog must wear a muzzle and be on a secure leash or chain.
  • Warning signs and tags. A warning sign of a dangerous dog's presence must be clearly visible, and a sign must also warn children. Dangerous dogs must also wear special tags designating them as dangerous dogs.
  • Spay or neuter. Dangerous dogs must be spayed or neutered.
  • Microchip. You must have your dangerous dog microchipped.
  • Insurance. Dangerous dog owners must obtain a $50,000 surety bond or insurance policy that meets certain requirements. 
  • Notification. If a dangerous dog gets loose, attacks an animal or person, dies, or is sold or given away, the owner must notify the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, the State Dog Warden, and the local police department within 24 hours. If the dog is sold or given away, the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement and the State Dog Warden need the new owner's name and contact information, including the address where the dog will live. 

If the owner of a dangerous dog does not meet these duties, the dog could be confiscated or the owner could be convicted of a misdemeanor. 

Liability of Owner

Because there are differences in dog bite laws by state, whether a dog owner is liable for a dog bite injury depends on the law where the injury occurred. In some states, the circumstances of the dog bite matter for liability. In others, like Pennsylvania, circumstances usually don’t matter.

Pennsylvania has strict liability laws. That means that if a dog bites someone and causes a physical injury, the dog bite laws in Pennsylvania require the dog owner to pay the medical expenses of the injured person, regardless of whether the owner knew the dog had a propensity to bite. 

However, the dog owner is not liable for any other expense or form of damages, like pain and suffering. And if the evidence shows the dog bite victim was more at fault than the owner for the dog bite, such as by committing criminal trespass on private property, the victim may not receive any compensation.

Some states only make an owner liable if the dog had a propensity to bite. Other state dog bite laws only make an owner liable for injuries caused by a dog bite if the owner was negligent. 

Propensities Based

In propensities-based states, if a dog owner knew or should have known that the dog had a propensity to bite, the dog owner is liable for damages caused by the dog's bite. This is sometimes called the "one-bite rule" because the dog owner often will not be liable for damages caused by the dog's first bite but almost always will be liable for a subsequent offense. 

However, this name can be misleading, because there are other ways besides a previous bite that can put an owner on notice that the dog may have a propensity to be dangerous. For example, a court may find that a dog's growling and snapping at people or aggressively chasing people should have made the dog owner aware that the dog had a propensity to be dangerous to others.

Negligence Based

Fewer states take a negligence approach. In these states, the victim of a dog bite must prove that the dog owner failed to exercise reasonable care in preventing the dog from hurting the victim. The standard for exercising reasonable care often depends on the dog's history. 

For example, a dog owner may need to take more significant steps to keep a dog from getting loose if the dog has a history of aggressive behavior.

Are You Seeking Compensation for Your Dog Bite Injury?

If you have been injured by a dog bite, it’s in your best interest to contact an attorney who specializes in getting compensation for victims of dog bites. Contact a lawyer at McEldrew Purtell today to learn what they can do for your dog bite case.