Experienced Pennsylvania Attorney Protecting Victims of Dog Bite Injuries
Every day, over 1,000 Americans end up in the emergency room over dog bite injuries. Moreover, nearly 90 percent of these injuries are caused by about nine percent of all dogs – a family of aggressive dog breeds that includes the notorious Pitbull and Rottweiler breeds. In addition to physical injuries, you may also suffer hidden psychological wounds that might turn out to be far more painful than your physical wounds.
If you believe that your dog bite injuries were caused by someone else’s negligence, whether that of the owner or some other party, you need to contact an experienced Pennsylvania dog bite lawyer as soon as possible – after all, your choice of lawyer might turn out to be the most important decision you make in the entire case. I am Jeffrey H. Penneys, Esq., and I specialize in dog bite cases. Since I have represented so many dog bite clients, I understand every nuance of Pennsylvania dog bite law.
Types of Dog Bite Injuries
Since a dog bite can occur anywhere on the body, dog bite injuries come in many different forms, and it is difficult to generalize about what a “dog bite injury” looks like. Nevertheless, some of the most common types of injuries include:
- Puncture wounds
- Crush injuries
- Tissue tears
- Broken bones
- Contagious diseases such as C canimorsus and (rarely) rabies
- Infections, such as osteomyelitis and the potentially deadly sepsis infection
- Nerve damage
It is important that you move immediately after the attack to have your dog bite injury treated, for both medical and legal reasons. Medical treatment will help you prove the exact extent of your injuries, which is critical when it comes to determining how much to ask for from the insurance company or in court. A dog bite injury can turn out to be far more serious than it may first appear.
After cleaning and irrigating your wound (and possibly suturing it up), the doctor may ask you whether or not you have had a tetanus shot within the past 10 years. If you haven’t, or if you are not sure whether you have or not, you will probably receive one as a precautionary measure. If the dog is rabid (an unlikely possibility these days, fortunately), you will also be treated for rabies. In most cases the doctor will administer an X-ray to determine the extent of any hidden bone or joint damage. This may be the extent of your treatment if your injuries turn out not to be serious.
More serious dog bite injuries require more extensive treatment, however. Fractured bones will have to be set, and nerve damage will have to be repaired to the extent possible. Since not all nerve damage is repairable, you may be left with permanent numbness, paralysis, or disfigurement. If you were bitten in the neck, your artery may have been punctured and you might suffer permanent brain damage due to extensive blood loss. Finally, scarring is a real possibility, especially for dog bite wounds on the last part of your body where you would ever want to scar: Your face. Facial scarring and disfigurement might require extensive reconstructive surgery, including skin grafts.
In additional to purely physical injury, you may have also suffered psychological injury resulting in significant or even debilitating anxiety. If this symptom does not abate quickly, you may require long-term psychological counseling.
The after-effects of a dog attack can be long-term or even permanent, and they are not necessarily limit to physical problems:
- Scarring or disfigurement that cannot be completely remedied by reconstructive surgery. This is a particularly troubling development when there are wounds to the face.
- Psychological injuries such as PTSD, phobias, panic attacks, or generalized anxiety. Long-term counseling may be required.
- Social difficulties (if your appearance is altered) that might result in rejection, isolation, or even difficulty securing employment. Note that a social problem is something distinct from a psychological problem – although you may have completely recovered psychologically, social difficulties caused by, for example, a disfigured face, will bring you new challenges every day.
Special Effects on Children
Children are particularly likely to become victims of dog attacks, because they often fail to recognize danger and because they are more likely to accidentally provoke a dog. Ironically, the younger the child is, the more likely he or she is to become a dog bite victim – and the more likely the child is to become permanently traumatized by the attack, as well. Naturally, this sort of traumatization will figure heavily into the value of a claim – yet what price can you put on a paralyzing fear that causes the child to suffer panic attacks in the presence of any dog?
Pennsylvania Dog Bite Law
The Pennsylvania dog bite statute covers most but not all aspects of Pennsylvania dog bite law. Below is a general summary of Pennsylvania law as it applies to dog bite injuries.
To win a dog bite claim under Pennsylvania law, you must prove that the defendant was negligent. In some cases, the dog owner will make this easy for you – suppose that you were bitten off the dog owner’s property while the dog was roaming free in violation of a municipal leash ordinance, for example. In that case, negligence is pretty easy to establish.
If you were injured while on the dog owner’s property, however, more will be required to demonstrate negligence – the dog may have had a history of unprovoked attacks, for example, or the owner may have failed to take reasonable steps to protect you based on a known risk posed by the dog. You may need to prove that the owner knew the dog was dangerous.
If you provoked the dog into attacking you, negligence could be impossible to prove, and you would lose the case. The law grants a certain leeway to children, however, especially young children, such that a young child who provoked a dog might still be able to recover damages. If you were at fault but your fault did not exceed 50 percent, a Pennsylvania court would simply deduct an amount from your damages that is proportionate to your percentage of fault, and make the owner pay the rest. This dynamic applies to settlement negotiations as well as litigation.
A dog bite defendant is liable for all injuries caused by a dog attack. Suppose, for example, that the victim retreats into the street during the attack and is hit by a passing car. The dog owner is still liable under these circumstances – a dog bite injury does not have to be direct in order to be actionable in court, as long as a dog attack ultimately caused the injury. In some cases a negligent landlord might even be held liable for an attack committed by a tenant’s dog.
Pennsylvania personal injury law (which covers dog bites) allows you to recover the following amounts if they apply to you:
- Medical expenses: Including all future medical expenses and even the cost of psychological counseling.
- Lost earnings: This item would apply equally to a mail carrier who lost three days of work and a welder who lost his or her career due to nerve damage in the welding arm.
- Incidental expenses: Any tangible expense arising from the attack, such as transportation fees to and from clinics, etc.
- Pain and suffering: This compensates you for physical pain, and can be awarded in amounts that far exceed compensation for medical expenses. This also includes future pain and suffering if plastic surgery is required.
- Mental anguish: You might experience mental anguish if, for example, you have a panic attack every time you see a dog. Children are particularly prone to this. Remember that you must first establish a physical injury before you are eligible to recover for mental anguish damages.
- Other intangible psychological losses such as loss of enjoyment of life due to partial paralysis of a limb, for example.
- Punitive damages (in unusual cases, such as when the owner “sics” the dog on the victim).
Settlement or Mediation vs. Trial
There are two possible ways to handle your claim – settlement and litigation. These two remedies are not mutually exclusive. You can, for example, file a lawsuit and then seek settlement while the lawsuit is pending. The vast majority of Pennsylvania dog bite cases do not go to trial – instead, they are resolved through written settlement agreements. If you do choose the litigation route, however, you have two choices – a lawsuit or mediation (actually binding arbitration, although they call it “mediation”). I am an experienced negotiator and trial lawyer, and I can handle your case with confidence no matter which route you decide to take.
If you don’t win, you don’t pay legal fees
Your claim may have been turned down by an insurance company, or they may be cynically trying to get you to accept a paltry sum. Never mind, they’re insurance companies and that’s just what they do. What I do, on the other hand, is stand up to insurance companies and fight hard until you receive every dime in compensation that you are entitled to. If you believe you might have a dog bite claim anywhere in Pennsylvania, contact me online. Otherwise, you can call me at 215-987-3550 (office) or 215-771-0430 (cell) to schedule your free case review.