Pennsylvania Dog Bite Laws

A dog owner's legal responsibility for bites and other injuries in Pennsylvania, dog bite lawsuit filing deadlines, and more.

If you've been bitten by someone else's dog in Pennsylvania, or you're a dog owner and want to understand your legal responsibilities, Pennsylvania's laws related to dog bite injury liability may be of keen interest to you. In the sections that follow, we'll discuss:

  • the deadline for filing a dog bite lawsuit in Pennsylvania courts
  • Pennsylvania's liability rules when it comes to a dog owner's financial responsibility for bites and other injuries, and
  • defenses a Pennsylvania dog owner might raise when faced with a personal injury lawsuit over an animal-caused injury.

Pennsylvania Statute of Limitations for Dog Bite Cases

Like every state, Pennsylvania sets statutory limits on the amount of time that can pass before a claimant must file a civil lawsuit in the state's courts. In Pennsylvania, all personal injury lawsuits —including cases stemming from dog bites—must be filed within two years of the date the injury occurred (that means the day on which you were bitten or otherwise harmed by the dog).

If you try to file your lawsuit more than two years after the date of your injury, the court will almost certainly dismiss it, unless a rare exception applies to effectively extend the deadline. Learn more about the personal injury statute of limitations.

Pennsylvania's Dog Bite Liability Rules

Dog bite cases in Pennsylvania are governed by both statutes and case law.

First, according to Pennsylvania's statutes (3 P.S. § 459-502), whenever a dog bites or otherwise injures someone, the animal's owner is financially liable for the cost of all medical treatment related to the injury. No proof of fault is required here. But it's important to note that this law does not make the owner responsible for other damages stemming from the incident, like pain and suffering and lost income. That doesn't mean a Pennsylvania dog owner is off the hook for these kinds of losses, however. That's where case law (rules arising from court decisions) comes in.

Pennsylvania courts have set out rules for suing for bites and other injuries when that harm results from the dog owner's negligence. That means proving that the animal's owner:

  • knew the dog had “unmistakably vicious tendencies,” and
  • failed to take reasonable steps to properly control the animal.

Pennsylvania's courts have held that a dog can demonstrate vicious tendencies without necessarily biting someone, but also that a single previous bite doesn’t automatically lead to the conclusion that the dog is vicious. Generally speaking, if the dog owner violates the Pennsylvania law requiring that the animal be restrained at all times, a finding of negligence will follow.

In a negligence-based lawsuit, the dog owner will be on the legal hook for the full spectrum of the claimant's losses, which means medical bills and non-financial effects like "pain and suffering." Learn more about damages in a personal injury case.

Defenses in a Pennsylvania Dog Bite Case

A Pennsylvania dog owner may turn to a number of legal defenses in response to a dog bite claim, including arguments that:

  • the claimant provoked the dog, and the dog only bit the claimant as a result of that provocation, or
  • the claimant was trespassing or otherwise had no legal right to be in the location of the incident.

If the injured claimant is found to bear some level of legal responsibility for his or her harm, Pennsylvania’s “comparative negligence” rule will apply, and if the claimant's share of fault is 50 percent or less, any court award will be reduced in direct proportion to the percentage of fault.

If you find yourself on either side of a Pennsylvania dog bite claim—as the animal's owner or as someone who suffered an injury—it may be time to discuss your situation with a personal injury lawyer.

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