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Pennsylvania Dog Bite Laws

There are no winners when a dog bite attack occurs. Being a dog bite victim is a frightening experience. A dog bite attack can both harm and traumatize someone. It’s also a difficult experience for the dog owner, who may now face a dog bite injury lawsuit for what their furry friend did. Whichever side of the situation you find yourself on, it’s important to understand the Pennsylvania dog bite laws and know what to expect in the aftermath of the attack.

Each state handles a dog owner's liability differently. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into the Pennsylvania dog bite laws, learn who is liable after a dog attack, and give you an idea of what to expect on both sides of a dog bite case.

Dog Bites in Pennsylvania - Who Is Liable?

Pennsylvania uses strict liability law, but only when it comes to medical costs. This means that the owner is liable for all the victim's medical expenses without the victim showing that the owner was negligent. Pennsylvania doesn’t have an explicit “one-bite rule” in place. So, you’re liable for a victim’s medical treatment whether or not your dog has bitten someone before.

In most dog bite cases, the owner’s homeowners’ insurance will cover the victim’s medical bills. Check your policy yourself or ask your insurance company to make sure your liability insurance covers dog attacks.

Negligence in Dog Bite Cases

For collecting damages other than medical expenses, the dog bite victim has to prove that the dog’s owner was negligent. This means they didn’t show the amount of care to keep their dog from harming others that any other reasonable person would have in the same situation.

Some of the possible types of damages recoverable in a negligence suit include:

  • Lost income and future lost income
  • Pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress
  • Property damage reimbursement

When it comes to proving negligence in a dog bite lawsuit, any mistake can doom your claim. Consider speaking with an experienced dog bite attorney near you if you have any questions or need legal advice.

Types of Dog Bite Victims

No matter how serious your dog bite injury, get medical attention at once. If that’s not possible, you should stabilize the wound before seeing a physician. Pennsylvania categorizes dog bite victims based on their injuries. There are two types:

  • Victims who are severely injured
  • Victims who are not severely injured

A severe injury is any physical injury that results in:

  • Broken bones
  • Disfiguring lacerations requiring multiple sutures or cosmetic surgery

This distinction makes a big difference in recovering damages. As mentioned above, your priority is getting medical treatment as quickly as possible after the dog attack.

Dog Bite Defenses

No dog owner wants to believe their canine companion is capable of harming others. But the sad truth is, your dog still has base instincts that can trigger aggressive behavior, even though they’re a domestic animal.

There are conditions in certain dog bite cases that make the dog not responsible for the dog attack and the dog’s owner not liable for the medical expenses of the victim. This applies if the victim is guilty of any of the following:

  • Attacking, tormenting, or provoking the dog
  • Willfully trespassing on the dog owner’s property
  • Committing another unlawful act for which a civil suit could be brought

Proving your dog’s innocence can be tricky. When in doubt, it might be a good idea to consult a dog bite lawyer specializing in defending against dog bite claims.

Pennsylvania and Dangerous Dogs

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is serious about protecting its citizens' public health, which is reflected in the laws related to dangerous dogs. Dogs given this classification are subject to increased restrictions and responsibilities for the dog’s owner.

Classifying a Dog as Dangerous

A canine risks dangerous dog classification if they have a history of or a propensity to attack human beings or domestic animals, dogs, or cats without provocation and commit one of the following:

  • Use in the commission of a crime
  • Kills or inflicts severe injury on a domestic animal, dog, or cat without provocation while off the owner’s property
  • Inflicts severe injury on a human being without provocation on public or private property
  • Attacks a human being without provocation

A propensity may be proven by a single incident.

Requirements for Keeping a Dangerous Dog

Once the dog is classified as dangerous, the following are required from the dog’s owner:

  • Registering the animal with the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement and annually by January 1st of each year regardless of when the dog was initially registered
  • Paying a registration fee of $500 per calendar year for the life of the dog
  • Confining the dog in a proper enclosure
  • Muzzling and leashing the dog when not in the enclosure
  • Microchipping the dog
  • Spaying or neutering the dog
  • Posting warning signs that indicate there is a dangerous dog on the owner’s property, including signs with symbols warning children as well
  • Paying all court-ordered reimbursements
  • Carrying liability insurance of at least $50,000 against further potential acts by the dog
  • Notifying the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement within 24 hours of any changes in the dog’s status, such as escape, being sold, death, etc.

Violating any of these requirements may result in criminal charges against the dog’s owner, up to a first-degree misdemeanor. Police dogs, guide dogs, and some farm dogs can’t be classified as dangerous dogs.

Pennsylvania Dog Bite Laws at a Glance

Pennsylvania’s statutes are often written in legalese and can take time to unpack. That's why we've prepared the following plain language summary of Pennsylvania's dog bite laws, with links to the laws themselves, to help guide your research.

Pennsylvania Dog Laws

Pennsylvania Statutes Title 3 P.S. Agriculture Section 459-101 "Dog Law":

  • Section 459-502 (dog bites; detention and isolation of dogs)

  • Section 459-502A (dangerous dog statute)

  • Section 506-A (dangerous dog registry)

Types of Possible Damages Available to Dog Bite Victims



Severe Injury

If a dog bite victim is severely injured, they can claim all damages, including the following:

  • Medical expenses

  • Lost wages

  • Permanent disfigurement

  • Mental anguish

  • Pain and suffering

Non-severe Injury

If a dog bite victim is not severely injured, they can claim medical damages only.

Possible Dog Bite Defenses

If the dog owner can show that the victim provoked the dog, then the owner may be able to avoid liability.

If the person who was bitten committed a willful trespass when the bite occurred, then the owner may not be liable.

Statute of Limitations

The statute of limitations for all Pennsylvania personal injury cases (including dog bite claims) is two years.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts that include federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Questions About Pennsylvania Dog Bite Laws

While every dog bite case has details that make it unique, common ground can often be found. Below are some frequently asked questions concerning dog attack episodes and their aftermath.

I got bit by my cousin’s mutt. Do I have to report it?

The first thing you should do is seek medical attention, even if the injury seems minor. In Pennsylvania, you’re required by law to report the bite to the local authorities within 24 hours. Depending on where you live, this is either city or county Animal Control or the Sheriff’s Department.

For instance, in Philadelphia, you can access Philadelphia Division of Disease Control (DDC) or call (215) 685-6748. In Pittsburgh, dog bite victims should call the Dog Warden at (412) 418-2163.

After getting medical attention, file a dog bite report with the local authorities. This is a necessity if you’re considering further legal action.

My dog has two minor bites on her record. Is she in danger of being put down?

While Pennsylvania wants to keep its inhabitants safe, euthanizing a dog is a last resort. In general, there are only two reasons the Commonwealth will put someone’s dog down:

  • If the dog kills a human being
  • If the animal is already classified as a dangerous dog and guilty of an unprovoked attack

If the dog is slated for euthanization, the dog’s owner may appeal the ruling.

What happens after a dog bite is reported?

The dog that caused the injury is subject to a 10-day quarantine after a reported bite to be observed for rabies. The animal control officer in charge of the case decides whether the quarantine can be done at the owner’s house.

The case will be reviewed to determine if a dangerous dog classification is necessary. The dog’s owner can appeal the decision.

Pennsylvania Dog Bite Laws: Related Resources

What To Know More About Pennsylvania Dog Bite Laws? Contact a Lawyer

Dog bite attacks are brutal and unsettling. Your peace of mind won’t be helped by complex Pennsylvania dog bite laws. If you’re a dog bite victim and seeking damages, having an experienced dog bite attorney on your side can help make sure you get what you deserve.

If your four-legged best friend is in trouble, a personal injury attorney specializing in defending dog bite cases is the right person to have in your corner. Put their expertise to work to get your pal out of the doghouse.

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