If you are a renter or a property owner in Pennsylvania, you may wonder what your rights and responsibilities are regarding dog bite injuries on your property. Dog bites can cause severe physical and emotional harm and legal and financial consequences. According to the Insurance Information Institute, Pennsylvania ranked second in the nation for dog bite claims in 2020, with 1,009 claims and an average cost of $44,507 per claim. In this blog post, we will discuss:
- Dog bite liability laws in Pennsylvania
- Landlord liability for dog bite injuries
- Tips for renters and property owners to avoid or minimize liability
Dog Bite Liability Laws in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania law on dog bites creates limited strict liability for dog bites. That means that a dog owner must pay the victim’s medical expenses, regardless of the bite’s circumstances. However, this law does not make the owner responsible for other damages stemming from the incident, such as pain and suffering, lost income, or property damage. To recover these damages, the victim must prove that the dog owner was negligent or that the dog had a history or propensity of attacking humans or domestic animals without being provoked.
Pennsylvania law distinguishes between two types of liability for dog bite injuries: strict liability and negligence liability. Strict liability applies when the dog causes severe injury or death to a person without provocation. A severe injury involves broken bones or a laceration that requires stitches or cosmetic surgery. In this case, the dog owner is liable for all damages, regardless of whether they knew or should have known of the dog’s viciousness.
Negligence liability applies when the dog causes non-severe injury to a person without provocation. In this case, the victim must prove that the dog owner failed to take reasonable steps to control the dog or prevent the injury properly. For example, the dog owner may be negligent if they violate the Pennsylvania law requiring that the animal be restrained at all times.
The relevant statutes and case law that govern dog bite liability in Pennsylvania are:
- 3 Pa. Stat. § 459-502 (2022): Dog bites; medical treatment; liability for damages
- 3 Pa. Stat. § 459-305 (2022): Confinement and housing of dogs not part of a kennel
- Deardorff v. Burger, 606 A.2d 489 (1992): Pennsylvania Supreme Court case on negligence liability for dog bite injuries
- Miller v. Hurst, 448 A.2d 614 (1982): Pennsylvania Superior Court case on negligence liability for dog bite injuries
Landlord Liability for Dog Bite Injuries
A landlord can be held liable for a dog bite injury caused by a tenant’s dog if the landlord knew or should have known of the dog’s viciousness and had control over the premises where the injury occurred. The landlord’s knowledge of the dog’s viciousness can be inferred from factors such as:
- The breed of the dog
- The size and strength of the dog
- The previous behavior and incidents involving the dog
- The complaints or warnings from other tenants or neighbors about the dog
- The local ordinances or regulations regarding dangerous dogs
The landlord’s control over the premises can be determined by factors such as:
- The terms of the lease agreement
- The degree of access and authority that the landlord has over the property
- The ability and duty of the landlord to inspect, repair, or maintain the property
- The ability and duty of the landlord to warn or protect others from potential hazards on the property
The relevant statutes and case law that govern landlord liability for dog bite injuries in Pennsylvania are:
- 3 Pa. Stat. § 459-502-A (2022): Dangerous dogs
- 3 Pa. Stat. § 459-507-A (2022): Construction of article
- Felder v. Butler Housing Authority, 2019 WL 6712128 (2019): Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court case on landlord liability for dog bite injuries
- Allen v. Mellinger, 784 A.2d 762 (2001): Pennsylvania Supreme Court case on landlord liability for dog bite injuries
Tips for Renters and Property Owners to Avoid or Minimize Liability
Renters and property owners can take some practical steps to prevent or reduce the risk of dog bite injuries on their property. Some of these steps are:
- Screen tenants and their dogs before renting out your property. Ask for references, vaccination records, spay/neuter certificates, and proof of insurance coverage.
- Enforce lease terms and rules regarding pets on your property. Specify the number, size, breed, and behavior of allowed pets. Require tenants to keep their dogs leashed, muzzled, or confined when outside their units. Prohibit tenants from leaving their dogs unattended or unsupervised on the property.
- Obtain insurance coverage for dog bite liability. Check your homeowners or renters insurance policy to see if it covers dog bite claims and what the limits and exclusions are. Consider purchasing additional or separate coverage if needed.
- Report any incidents involving dog bites or attacks on your property. Notify the local animal control authority, the police, and your insurance company as soon as possible. Keep records of the incident, such as photos, medical bills, witness statements, and correspondence.
Some sources that provide more information and advice on how to avoid or minimize liability for dog bite injuries are:
- Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture: Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement
- Insurance Information Institute: Dog Bite Liability
- American Veterinary Medical Association: Dog Bite Prevention
At RG Injury Law we are ready to help
Dog bite injuries can have severe consequences for both renters and property owners in Pennsylvania. It is essential to know your rights and responsibilities under the law and to take measures to protect yourself and others from potential harm. If you have been bitten by a dog on someone else’s property, or if you are a renter or a property owner facing a dog bite claim, you may need legal assistance to recover your losses or defend yourself. Contact us today at RG Injury Law for a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer who can help you with your case.