What Happens If a Dog Bites Someone on Your Property?

November 19th, 2018

Dogs are very popular pets in America, but dogs can also cause severe injuries when they bite or attack people. Dog owners must take care to prevent injuries to others while walking their dogs in public, visiting dog parks, or simply walking through their neighborhoods. However, dog owners also have a duty of care to prevent dog bite injuries in their homes. When a visitor to a dog owner’s home or property suffers a dog bite injury, the owner is likely liable for the resulting damages. It’s crucial for all dog owners to understand their duty of care to others both inside and outside the home.

Duty of Care Under Premises Liability Laws

Generally, property owners have a duty of care to prevent injuries to lawful visitors on their properties. This includes invitees like friends, relatives, and neighbors who have the owner’s express or implied permission to enter the property. If the owner has any reason to believe his or her dog may injure a lawful guest on the property, the owner must take reasonable steps to prevent injuries.

Property owners also owe a duty of care to licensees, or individuals who have permission to enter a property for their own purposes like mail carriers, utility workers, and salespeople. If a licensee is likely to encounter the dog while on the property, the owner must ensure the dog cannot injure the licensee.

When it comes to injuries to lawful visitors from dog attacks, owners are strictly liable for medical expenses for a first-time bite or mild dog-related injury. If the owner had no reason to suspect the dog would bite or the dog had no prior history of attacks, then the owner won’t be liable for the victim’s other damages like lost income and pain and suffering.

The distinction of “lawful” visitor is an important one. Pennsylvania law does not require property owners to prevent injuries to trespassers. If an individual illegally enters private property and the property owner’s dog causes an injury to the trespasser, the dog’s owner is not liable for the trespasser’s damages.

Ultimately, if a dog owner had any reason to believe the dog may attack someone but failed to prevent injuries to a lawful visitor on the property, the dog owner is likely liable for the victim’s damages in some capacity.

Defenses for Dog Owners

There are few defenses available to dog owners whose pets cause severe injuries. The two most common include trespassing and provocation. As previously mentioned, a dog owner has no duty of care to prevent injury to a trespasser, nor is a dog owner responsible for a dog retaliating against provocation.

If someone injures the dog, threatens the dog physically, or takes inappropriate action against the dog’s owner, the owner is not liable for the dog attacking out of self-defense or in defense of its owner.

Contributory negligence comes into play in many dog bite lawsuits in Pennsylvania. If a jury decides that a dog bite victim contributed to his or her injuries in any way, this contributory negligence does not necessarily bar the victim from recovery. However, the victim would lose a portion of the case award equal to his or her percentage of fault for the incident. Additionally, if the jury decides the plaintiff’s fault exceeds the defendant’s, then the plaintiff cannot recover damages.

Both dog attack victims and owners of dogs that cause injuries need to know their legal options after any dog-related injury. A reliable Philadelphia dog bite lawyer can help a victim determine his or her best options for recovery or help a dog owner defend against an unjust charge or criminal charges for negligent dog ownership.

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