Dog Owners Are Liable For Injuries Caused By Their Pets

Date: October 25, 2006

Under Pennsylvania law, an owner of a dog is liable for the vicious acts of his dog if the owner (1) had knowledge or reason to know of the dog’s vicious propensities, and (2) failed to exercise reasonable care to prevent the dog’s viciousness from harming any person.  The next question then is when is the owner considered to have knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensities?  The answer is as soon as the owner knows or has good reason to believe that the animal is likely to do mischief. 

There is a maxim derived from old English common law which stated that every dog is entitled to one free bite.  This is another way of saying that a dog owner bears no responsibility for damages caused when his dog bites a person for the first time.  However, “the one free bite rule” is not the law of Pennsylvania.  A dog may show such ferocious propensities without ever biting anyone that it is his master’s duty to ensure that he is not afforded an opportunity to take a first bite.  

Any conduct by a dog which evidences vicious propensities is sufficient to establish notice to the owner of the dog’s vicious propensities.  Upon receipt of such notice, the dog owner has a duty to exercise reasonable care to restrain and control the dog so that it cannot harm others.  An owner with notice who fails to so control his dog will be held liable for any injuries his dog inflicts on others.

Pennsylvania has enacted the Dog Law of 1982, 3 P.S. sec. 459-305.  This statutes provides as follows:

     It shall be unlawful for the owner or keeper of any dog to fail to keep at all times such dog either:

                1.   confined within the premises of the owner;

                2.   firmly secured by means of a collar and chain or other device so that it cannot 

                      stray beyond the premises on which it is secured; or

                3.   under the reasonable control of some person, or when engaged in lawful hunting,

                      exhibition or field training.

This statute was passed to protect the public from personal injury, property damage and other hazards created by roving dogs.  If a dog owner violates the above statute and his dog causes harm to another as a result of the violation, the dog owner will be held liable for the injuries caused by his dog.

If you or loved one have been bitten or injured by a dog and you have questions regarding whether the dog’s owner should be held responsible, please contact the Pennsylvania Personal Injury Attorneys of DLP and ask to speak to one of our attorneys for a free consultation regarding whether you may have a claim against the dog’s owner for damages.

 John P. Finnerty, Esquire

Joe Price
Attorney Joe Price is a seasoned Trial Lawyer serving Northeast, Central and Southeast Pennsylvania for the past forty (40) years. He has handled serious personal injury cases in courts throughout the Federal system including New Jersey and New York. Attorney Price is A.V. Rated by Martindale Hubble. He is Board Certified in Civil Practice by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1996.