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A Pit Bull Attorney Discusses Dog Bite Claims

This blog discusses the law for Pit Bull attack claims and also claims against the owner of any other breed of dog that causes injury.

The law that governs the conduct of dog owners is referred to as the Dog Law of December 22, 1965, P.L. 1124, Art VII, @702, 3 P.S. @460-702.  The relevant provision states:

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, or (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 the lawful hunting or field training accompanied

by an owner or handler.

The decision of Miller v. Hurst, 302 Pa. Super. 235; 448 A.2d 614 (1982) offers a detailed explanation of the Dog Law.  Earlier case law allowed dogs what was familiarly referred to as “one free bite”.  Andrews v. Smith, 324 Pa. 455 (1936), and Freeman v. Terzya, 229 Pa. Super. 254; 323 A.2d 186 (1974).  The first application of the amendments to the Dog Law were articulated in Freeman v. TerzyaAndrews stood for the proposition that a dog was entitled to “one free bite”.  Under this rule, an owner was required to restrain his animal only after its vicious propensities were know to the owner through either a bite or other fierce behavior.  Freeman upheld this principal.

Freeman was overruled by Miller in 1982.  The Court held that “an unexcused violation of the Dog Law is negligence per se”.  Miller is the controlling law in Pennsylvania and has been consistently reinforced and affirmed since the decision was rendered.  Therefore, a plaintiff is no longer required to prove the defendant (dog owner) had knowledge of the animal’s vicious propensities.  The reasoning behind this holding was to draw closer to the original intent of the legislature.  Miller, supra, at 244.

“Pennsylvania can no longer permit dogs to run free without

imposing responsibility upon their owners for damages caused

to persons or property by such roving dogs.  This, we believe

was the intent of the legislature when it enacted the Dog Law

of 1965.”

Id. at 243.  Therefore, even if the dog owners were unaware of the dog’s propensities, this does not bar the plaintiff’s recovery.

Miller states “a dog owner may always show that his or her dog escaped despite the exercise of due care”.  Id.  Therefore, the burden is shifted to the defendants to show that due care was, indeed, exercised.  Although a violation of the Dog Law is per se negligence, the defendants can rebut this finding by showing that due care was taken.  Miller never specifically states what precautions would constitute due care.  However, it can be presumed that when a dog breaks away from its owner without provocation and attacks a pedestrian, inadequate efforts were taken to reasonably control the animal.

In sum, the dog owner did not exercise adequate control over the dog .  This is negligence per se under the Dog Law.  Since that negligence was the proximate cause of the injuries, the dog owner would be liable for her losses and damages.

For more of my blogs on injury claims:  click here.

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