According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
, 4.5 million dog bites occur every year in the U.S., and almost 1 out of every 5 dog bites requires medical attention.
The cost of dog bites is staggering. Accounting for one-third of all homeowners’ liability insurance claims, dog bite claims total $570 million annually as reported by the Insurance Information Institute
and State Farm. In 2015, Pennsylvania ranked fourth among all U.S. states in the number of dog bite claims, and the total cost state-wide was over $24 million.
The state of Pennsylvania has a comprehensive dog bite law, but it is very complicated. Both criminal and civil cases can depend on the circumstances surrounding the dog bite, including a dog’s behavior history, the actions of the dog owner, the actions of the dog bite victim, and the severity of the injuries caused by the dog bite.
In certain situations, the owners of biting dogs can be subject to criminal prosecution, and dog bite victims in Pennsylvania are often entitled to compensation for their damages.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Children from a Dog Bite
The benefits of dog ownership are well-documented: the companionship of a dog can decrease a person’s stress, increase exercise, and provide valuable lessons for the entire family. However, any dog, regardless of breed, can bite in certain situations.
Educating yourself and your children can help reduce your likelihood of becoming the victim of a dog bite:
- Only Pet Dogs That You Know – Children in particular often feel tempted to pet a strange dog, but approaching an unfamiliar dog is not safe.
- Ask Permission – Teach your children that they should never attempt to pet a dog without the owner’s permission
- Fences – Make sure your children understand that they should never pet a dog that is on the other side of a fence.
- Don’t Run – Dogs have a natural desire to chase and catch things, so teach your children never to run from a dog.
- Certain Situations – You should always avoid disturbing a dog that is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies. Never encourage your family dog to play aggressively, and never allow small children to play unsupervised with a dog.
Unfortunately, irresponsible dog owners contribute to dog bite incidents by failing to properly socialize their dogs, disobeying leash laws, failing to confine their dogs, improperly training their dogs, and providing inadequate veterinary care.
Dog Bites – Victims and Injuries
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association
, children account for most dog bite victims, and senior citizens are the second most common group injured by dog bites. Dog bite injuries can cause pain, nerve damage, infection, and if left untreated, illness.
In addition, dog bites can be incredibly costly; the average cost per dog bite-related hospital stay is more than $18,000, which is significantly more expensive than most injury-related hospital stays.
Dog bite hospitalizations are most common in the northeastern United States, including Pennsylvania. According to the CDC, the most common dog bite injuries include puncture wounds, deep cuts, bruising, and broken and crushed limbs.
Dog bites can harm more than a person’s physical health; victims of dog bites may experience emotional trauma as well. The victims of severe dog bites often suffer post-traumatic stress disorder and a lifelong fear of dogs. Children in particular may experience overwhelming psychological trauma after being attacked by a dog.
Legal Responsibilities of Pennsylvania Dog Owners
Pennsylvania law requires that dog owners confine, secure, or control their dogs at all times. State law provides stricter guidelines for a dog owner whose dog has ever attacked or injured a human or domestic animal while off the owner’s property. In addition, some Pennsylvania cities and townships have local leash ordinances. For example, in Philadelphia, dog owners are required to keep their dogs on a leash that is no longer than 6 feet in length.
A Pennsylvania dog owner whose dog inflicts injury on a person without provocation while off the owner’s property is liable for the victim’s medical expenses. Depending on the severity of the injuries caused by the dog, the owner may be additionally liable for other losses and damages. These liabilities apply even in cases in which a dog has no prior history of attacking.
What to Do If You or Your Child Is Bitten by a Dog
If you or your child is bitten by a dog, you should seek immediate medical attention, especially if the skin is broken. Your next step is to notify local law enforcement and animal control. You should also photograph the injuries as soon as possible and throughout the healing process.
Under Pennsylvania law, you have two years from the date of the dog bite to file an injury case. You should not give a statement to an insurance company or sign any insurance forms without first consulting an experienced personal injury attorney.
The Pennsylvania Dog Bite Law is complicated and convoluted; some injuries qualify for reimbursement of medical expenses, and others qualify for medical expenses plus additional damages. Call Donaghue & Labrum to determine your legal rights as a dog bite victim. Our attorneys will fight on your behalf to ensure that you receive the maximum compensation to which you are entitled.