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Dog Bite Laws – Who Pays if Someone Gets Hurt

Dogs are a fact of every day life. Chances are good you own at least one.

According to the American Pet Products Association, there were 83.3 million owned dogs in the U.S. in 2012, with 47% of all households having at least one dog. Not all dogs are good dogs, and not all dog owners are good dog owners. About 4.7 million dog bites occur each year with nearly 800,000 of them requiring medical attention, according to the American Human Society. If you or a loved one have been injured due to a dog bite, you may be able to obtain compensation from the dog’s owner or his or her insurance carrier.

Delaware Dog Bite Law

Delaware law concerning liability for harm done by dogs is fairly progressive, as far as the victim’s rights are concerned. They should also put dog owners on notice that they need to keep their dogs under control at all times. Delaware Code Section 1711 states,

The owner of a dog is liable in damages for any injury, death or loss to person or property that is caused by such dog, unless the injury, death or loss was caused to the body or property of a person who, at the time, was committing or attempting to commit a trespass or other criminal offense on the property of the owner, or was committing or attempting to commit a criminal offense against any person, or was teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog.

Unless your are committing a crime, or trying to, on the dog owner’s property, or are “teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog,” and are injured, killed or had property damaged or destroyed by the dog, the dog owner is liable for damages. This is a “strict liability” statute, which means if a certain bad thing happens (a dog bite for example), then a certain party (the owner) has a legal obligation to pay for damages.

Pennsylvania Dog Bite Law

It’s a little more complicated in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania dog bite law sets apart different groups of victims and treats them differently. The source of the state’s dog bite law are court decisions, the statutory “Dog Law” (3 P.S. § 459-101 through § 459-1205) and the cases interpreting that. Within the Dog Law is the Dangerous Dog Statute (3 P.S. § 459-501-A through § 459-507-A).

The common law (court created) legal cause of action for “scienter” (prior knowledge) allows a victim to recover full compensation if the dog previously bit another person without justification or showed a tendency to do so.

If the dog hasn’t bitten before, Pennsylvania’s dog bite law offers two remedies depending on the degree of injury. A “severe injury” is “any physical injury that results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery.” (The Dog Law, sec. 102.)

  • A severely injured victim can make a Dog Law claim against the dog owner for medical expenses and all other losses and legal damages. That victim must show the dog inflicted severe injury without provocation.
  • If not severely injured, the victim can make a Dog Law claim against the dog owner for medical expenses only. (Sec. 502, subdivision (b) of the Dangerous Dog Statute) The victim would have to prove the dog caused the injury, there were medical expenses as a result and the defendant owned the dog.

Contact Our Office

If you or a loved one have been injured by a dog and want to learn more about your rights and legal options, to arrange a free initial consultation, contact us online or call our office at (302) 777-1000. Evening and weekend meetings can be arranged upon request. We will come to your home or the hospital, if necessary.