Not all dog bites fall on the owner. There are instances where the owner may not be liable for the dog’s actions – especially if he or she was not in control of the animal at the time, or if another party was responsible for the dog. In a civil dog bite case, the ownership of the dog often results in strict liability for the violation of Pennsylvania dog bite statutes. However, the statute does not have a clear definition for what constitutes “ownership” of an animal – which can make proving your case difficult.
The issue is that there is not a clear distinction in the law between the legal concept of ownership, and that of a person who registers the animal. For example, a person could be the registered owner of that dog, but not actually have the dog living with him or her. Instead, the registered owner has a family member caring for the dog permanently – therefore, would the person registered to the dog truly be the owner, or would the person harboring the dog be considered the owner?
Is the Owner Liable if the Dog Has Never Bitten Before?
A dog does not have to necessarily be dangerous to prove liability. If the plaintiff can show that the owner knew or should have known that the dog posed a risk for an attack, then the owner may be held liable for the actions of the dog – regardless of whether it has attacked someone before or not. For example, a dangerous propensity is all that is required to prove liability – even if the dog has not bitten someone. This could include being aggressive towards anyone, including the mailman, as well as barking aggressively, jumping-up on people even in a playful way, or attacking other animals.
Proving the Owner Knew the Dog Was Dangerous
This is a complex process – and one that should be done with an experienced dog bite attorney. In order to prove that the dog’s owner actually knew that his or her dog was dangerous, you must have proof that the dog had a dangerous propensity. There are some things that you could look for in order to prove this, such as:
- The dog was known to growl or snap at others.
- The dog had been in protection and was trained to attack other people.
- The dog was often muzzled by the owner.
- The owner has a “Beware of Dog” sign posted on the property.
- The owner kept the dog confined.
- There have been complaints about the dog’s aggressive behavior by friends, family, or even neighbors.
- The dog fought with or injured other animals.
Just because a dog is chained up or confined during the day does not automatically prove that it is dangerous. After all, some owners confine their pets to reduce damage to their property – not to reduce the chance that they will attack someone. Instead, you must show that the owner was confining the dog because he or she knew that it was a danger to the public.
Who is the Owner?
Lastly, you will need to establish who was responsible for the dog’s actions. While the registered owner may be your first choice, it may be easier to establish that the person who was in control of the animal at the time was at fault – especially if the owner was not aware of the dog’s propensity to attack someone.
Speak with a Dog Bite Attorney
To prove who is liable, you need the assistance of an attorney. I can help assess your case and determine who is truly responsible for your dog bite injuries – whether that is the registered owner or person harboring the pet at the time. Schedule a consultation with me, Jeffrey H. Penneys, today at 215-987-3550 (office) or my cell: 215-771-0430. You can also contact me online with your legal questions.