ATTORNEYS REPRESENTING CLIENTS IN LANCASTER & YORK
Animals are unpredictable creatures. There’s no way to know what they might do.
As much as we love our pets, it’s important to realize they’re animals and, even if they’re well trained, can lash out or become aggressive without warning.
Dog bites are the most common animal bite seen in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 885,000 people are bitten by dogs each year, and one out of every five of those require medical attention.
It’s hard to think that one of our four legged friends would hurt anyone, but it happens every single day. So the real question is: what are your legal options if you are bitten by a neighborhood dog?
What To Do if You’re Bit by a Dog
Being bitten or attacked by a dog can happen with relatively little warning. While adults are bit from time to time, children are the most likely to be injured from a dog bite. The number one thing you need to do is try to find the dog’s owner to get their contact information, make sure the dog is up to date on all of their shots, and try to determine if there is any possibility that the dog has rabies. Your next step should be reporting the dog bite to both the police and your local animal control agency, so that they can take the proper precautions in preventing another bite from happening.
If you or a loved one has been bitten by your own dog or someone else’s, get away from the dog and to a safe place as soon as possible. Asses the wounds to see which of the following categories they may fall into and respond accordingly.
- Minor Wounds: This can include scratches, small lacerations, or shallow puncture wounds. Wash it with warm, soapy water, apply an antibiotic ointment, cover it with a bandage, and elevate the area where the wound is, if possible. If the wound starts to become swollen, red, painful, or if you come down with a fever as a result of the dog bite, contact your doctor right away.
- Major Wounds: Deep cuts or puncture wounds can be considered major, as can wounds that result in a broken bone. If bleeding, apply pressure to the area to stop it, and then clean and monitor the progression of the wound as outlined above. If you cannot stop the bleeding, have a broken bone, or a loss of consciousness occurs, call 9-1-1.
- Life-Threatening Wounds: Most dog bites are not this severe, but there have been cases before where a dog not only bit a human, but they kept on biting. In this scenario, you may be in shock and, while the wounds may not seem that bad, they could be life-threatening. If you or your loved one has sustained multiple bite wounds, are bleeding profusely, or have bone or muscle tissue visible, or if you’ve sustained any kind of head/neck injury or bite, call 9-1-1 and get to the hospital as soon as possible.
Pennsylvania Dog Bite Laws
Our state follows “strict liability” when it comes to dog ownership. This means that dog owners in PA are liable for any and every injury, catastrophic or otherwise, that their dog inflicts on someone else. This is true regardless of whether or not you know your dog to be dangerous and whether or not the dog was appropriately restrained at the time of the attack. The only exceptions to this rule are if someone trespasses on your property and is bitten as a result, or if someone intentionally provokes the dog in such a way that causes it to become aggressive.
If the dog in question has never bitten anyone before, and as such is not considered “dangerous”, the injuries resulting from the bite can be broken down into two categories: severe and non-severe. A “severe” injury is one that “results in broken bones or disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery.” If the bite is deemed severe, then the victim of the bite can file a lawsuit against the dog’s owner for medical expenses, legal damages, and other losses (emotional trauma, etc.). If deemed non-severe, the victim can still file a lawsuit against the animal’s owner but can only seek compensation for medical expenses. Either way, it makes sense to call a dog bite lawyer to discuss your case.
If there has been an incident with the animal before, then chances are the dog has been labeled as “dangerous,” based on certain criteria.
- A dog is considered dangerous if he or she has done no or more of the following:
- The dog has inflicted severe injuries without being provoked.
- The dog has killed or injured another domestic animal, without provocation
- The dog attacked a person without provocation
- The dog has been used as an accessory to a crime
- Dogs can also be labeled as dangerous if one or both of the following is true:
- If the dog has a history of attacking people or other animals without being provoked
- The dog has a propensity to attack people or other domestic animals without provocation
Responsibilities for Dangerous Dog Owners in PA
If an individual or family’s dog has been labeled as dangerous, there are several stipulations the owner must meet to keep the dog. They must:
- Register the dog as dangerous.
- Maintain liability insurance for at least $50,000 that insures the owner for any injuries the dog may inflict to another person or animal.
- Obtain fencing or a suitable enclosure for the dog.
- Label their property as housing a dangerous animal and display a sign that informs children that a dangerous dog lives there.
- Muzzle the dog and restrain it on a leash at all times when off the owner’s property.
- Notify the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, the State Dog Warden, and local police departments if the dog is gotten loose, is unconfined, has attacked an animal or another person, has been sold, or has died.
Why Dogs Bite
Dogs may bite for a variety of reasons. While some statistics show that certain breeds of dogs are more prone to bite than others, the jury is still out on the matter. The truth is, whether they’re male or female, big or small, any dog can become agitated and aggressive, leading them to bite at any time.
A dog may bite if he/she:
- Is defending their territory (such as a bed or crate), their belongings (toys, bones, etc.), or their food
- Is stressed
- Has been scared or startled, such as in a situation where a child is injured because they stepped on a dog’s tale
- Feels threatened
- Is sick or sore due to an injury or surgery
- Is playing, but doesn’t know their own strength and bites too hard
Tips for Avoiding Dog Bites
Just like humans, animals deserve a certain amount of respect. Despite the fact that we “own” them, we have to realize that they are their own creature with their own reactions to various situations. As a responsible dog owner, it is your job to know your dog’s limits, not invade their personal space, and to educate all those who step foot on your property in the best way to handle and interact with your dog.
Again, animals can be unpredictable. While the following tips are not guaranteed to prevent a dog bite from ever happening, they can help you avoid the kind of situations that lead to dog bites:
- Every dog is different, so there’s no way to truly know if yours is predisposed to be aggressive, but choosing a breed that is historically good with people/children and generally mellow is a good place to start.
- As a dog owner, be sure to socialize your pup while they’re young. This will help them be more comfortable around animals and people that are unfamiliar.
- Always ask the dog’s owner if it’s ok to touch them before doing so.
- Pay attention to the dog’s body language. If the dog has a tense body, stiff tail, laid back ears, furrowed brow, is showing the whites of their eyes, yawning, licking their lips, staring, or backing away, he/she may feel threatened or feel the need to bite.
- Never touch or even go near a stray dog or one that is unfamiliar to you.
- When meeting a dog, spend some time around them before you attempt to touch them.
- Don’t greet a dog with sudden movements or approach them from above. Stand a good distance away and make yourself smaller by crouching down so that you’ll seem less intimidating.
- Don’t establish eye contact until you’ve given the dog a moment to see and smell you first. Dogs can perceive eye contact as being aggressive or challenging, and that can make them tense up.
- Don’t alarm a dog, especially an unfamiliar one, if they are eating, sleeping, or taking care of their puppies.
- Never leave kids alone with a dog, no matter how certain you are that the dog will not bite.
- Finally, if the dog in question does become aggressive, do not make eye contact. Stand still with your hands at your side, don’t run or scream, and slowly back away when the dog begins to lose interest in you.
When to Talk to a Dog Bite Lawyer
Dog bites can be both physically and emotionally scarring. There are plenty of individuals out there who had a bad experience with a dog as a child or a young adult who are so terrified that they are unable to have dogs as pets, or even be around dogs at all. If this has happened to you, a family member, or a friend, you may be entitled to seek damages for your medical bills, damage to your property, time away from work, and even pain and suffering.
After you have notified the authorities and sought the appropriate medical treatment, your very next step should be to contact a Lancaster dog bite lawyers at Hagelgans & Veronis. Our attorneys are experienced in handling the aftermath of an animal attack and may be able to help you seek compensation for your dog bit injury. We will conduct a thorough investigation, examine every possible aspect of your case, and fight to recover the money you could be entitled to. Our consultations are always free and can be scheduled by contacting us online or calling at 1-877-454-5829.