Dog Attack Law in Pennsylvania

Dog attack law in Pennsylvania allows the victim to seek damages for dog bite injuries. Call Jeffrey Harlan Penneys, Esquire, Philadelphia Dog Bite Lawyer, at 1-800-injury-law for a free consultation.

Dog bite law in PennsylvaniaIn the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, dog owners are strictly liable for medical bills in all cases. If it can be shown that the bite or dog attack occured because of the dog owner’s negligence, the dog bite victim can also get pain and suffering, which includes payment from the dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance company for therapy, past, present and future medical expenses, permanent scarring and out-of-pocket expenses. Such damages can also be recovered if there was a violation of the “Dangerous Dog” statute. This is true even if the dog had never previously bit a person before.

The Pennsylvania Dangerous Dog Statute is actually a group of dog attack laws, commonly known as the Dangerous Dog Statute. The highlights of Pennsylvania dog bite law, pertinent to victims of dog attacks, in plain language, are as follows:

Dog Bites and Detention of Dogs


Any dog which bites or attacks a human is confined by the Department of Health, a state dog warden, an animal control officer, or a police officer. Where the dog is detained is at the discretion of the investigating officer – it may be at the owner’s premises.

Bite Victims

The investigating officer is responsible for notifying the bite victim of the medical results of the dogs confinement. Any cost to the victim for medical treatment resulting from an attacking or biting dog must be paid fully by the owner of the dog. The Commonwealth is not liable for medical treatment costs to the victim.

If the dog attack victim requires compensation over and above the medical costs, the victim must prove one of three things:

  1. The dog owner was negligent (i.e., did not take reasonable precaution to avoid the attack)
  2. The dog had a dangerous propensity to bite people.
  3. The attack was a violation of the dangerous dog law (it is a crime to keep a dangerous dog in Pennsylvania) because of the seriousness of the injuries.

Registration of a Dog Attack Case

Summary offense of harboring a dangerous dog – A victim attacked by a dog(s), or anyone on behalf of victim, a person whose domestic animal has been killed or injured without provocation, the Pennsylvania state dog warden, or the local police may file a complaint, charging the owner with harboring a dangerous dog.

The owner may be guilty of the summary offense of harboring a dangerous dog if the district justice finds that the following have been proven:

(1) The offending dog has done one of the following:

  • Inflicted severe injury on a human without provocation.
  • Killed or caused severe injury on a domestic animal without provocation while off the owner’s property.
  • Attacked a human without provocation.
  • Been used in the commission of a crime.

(2) The dog has either or both of the following:

  • A history of attacking humans/domestic animals without provocation.
  • A propensity to attack humans/domestic animals without provocation. (A propensity to attack is proven by a single incident described in the bullet points of item 1 above.)

(3) The defendant is the owner or keeper of the dog.

Effect of Conviction

If a person is found guilty of harboring a dangerous dog it constitutes a determination that the dog is a dangerous dog. When a dog owner, or keeper, has been convicted of a crime, the conviction may be used in a civil claim as proof that the owner or keeper was negligent.

Criminal Consequences

The owner of a dog that attacks a person can go to jail, and the dog must be put down, if the requirements of the dog attack law regarding severe injury or death are met.

Attacks Causing Severe Injury or Death

The owner who through intentional, reckless or negligent conduct, allows a dog to aggressively attack and cause severe injury or death, is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.

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 single incident of severe injury imposes criminal liability under Pennsylvania dog attack law, and therefore eliminates the “one free bite” interpretation under the prior version of the Dangerous Dog Statute. The Court ruled:

“The 1996 amendments to the Statute no longer require that the dog be found specifically ‘dangerous.'” After the amendments, the Statute imposes liability where any of the following situations arise:

  • a dog inflicts severe injury on a human without provocation; or
  • attacks a human without provocation and where the dog has either a history or propensity of attacking humans or domestic animals without provocation.

This article is merely a synopsis of dog attack law in Pennsylvania so that you may better understand why you should contact an experienced Pennsylvania dog bite lawyer to handle your case.

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If you or a loved one were bitten by a dog in Pennsylvania, please contact me for a free consultation.