What should I do if I’m injured by a dog?

Dogs are man’s (and woman’s!) best friend, but unfortunately dogs can cause injuries to humans. Dogs may cause injury by biting, chasing, or jumping up on people. Even a friendly dog can attack and injure a person if the dog is startled or presented with an unfamiliar situation. The most common type of injury caused by a dog is a bite. However, a dog attack does not have to involve a bite. For example, a person may injure himself while running away from a dog that is aggressively chasing him. A person may be knocked to the ground by a large dog that jumps up. A child may be scratched in the face by an excited dog that jumps. A motorist may swerve to avoid a dog that runs into the roadway, resulting in a car accident. All of these situations can create liability on the part of the dog owner if certain facts can be proven.

In Pennsylvania, the owner or keeper of a dog is liable for harm caused by the dog is the harm results from a “dangerous propensity” of the animal. The owner or keeper of the animal must know or have reason to know of the dangerous propensity prior to the harm occurring. Many people refer to the idea that every dog gets “one free bite.” No such rule exists in Pennsylvania, and a dog owner may be liable even for the first bite or attack, if the owner should have known of the dog’s dangerous propensities prior to the attack. An earlier bite or attack if not necessary to prove notice. If the first attack is sufficiently vicious, the attack itself can be used to prove notice.

If you or a loved one is injured by a dog in any manner, it is important to call an attorney as soon as possible as there are many things that need to happen quickly after an attack occurs. If a bite is involved, you need immediate medical treatment, but also need information regarding the dog’s vaccine history, particularly for rabies. If the dog hasn’t been vaccinated, or if you are unsure, animal control should quarantine the animal for at least 10 days to rules out a rabies infection. If the dog cannot be quarantined, or the quarantine is violate, you may be advised to undergo a series of rabies shots in case the dog was infected with rabies. Animal control may also investigate the claim and pursue criminal charges against the dog owner. This process will usually require input and involvement from you as the victim. Animal control in your area may not investigate unless you contact them and explain the severity of your injuries and express a desire that the dog owner be pursued for harboring a dangerous dog. The state Department of Agriculture may have prior information regarding the animal if other attacks occurred, but that information may not be shared with you as the victim unless it is properly requested from the state.

Documentation of your injuries and scarring is key. Take pictures of your bite wounds as soon as possible – even before they are medically treated and repaired. You shouldn’t compromise your medical treatment, health, or safety to obtain photographs, but early photographs of your injury are important to demonstrate how serious your wounds were. If you have stitches or cuts and the bite wound may result in a scar, take pictures frequently to show the progression – at least once a week.

Your attorney will also look to see if there are any issues with the dog’s license, or with the ownership of the dog. This helps begin the process of identifying the owner, if you do not know who the owner is. If the dog’s owner and residence are known, a claim can be pursued against the dog owner’s homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, which ordinarily provides liability coverage for dog attacks. Pursuing this type of claim can cumbersome, as there are very few ways to identify the insurance carrier without contacting the dog owner directly. This is best accomplished through an attorney. If no insurance coverage exists, which is occasionally the case, there may be very little recourse for a victim. However, if there is insurance, there generally will be both medical payments coverage and liability coverage available to compensate the victim.

Because of the complexities of dog attack cases, from both a legal and factual standpoint, it is important to contact an attorney as soon as possible after the attack occurs. If you or a loved one is the victim of a dog attack, please contact Erin Rudert at 412-626-5590 or erin@lawkm.com for a free consultation.