Thursday, February 23, 2012

Winning the Dog Bite Case with Negligence Per Se

Negligence per se can help Pittsburgh residents win their dog bite lawsuits. In 1996, various amendments were made to Pennsylvania's dog law that made it easier to recover civilly for a dog bite injury under the theory of negligence per se.

In Pennsylvania, if a jury finds that a defendant violated a state law and that violation was a factual cause of the injuries complained of then the defendant is deemed negligent as a matter of law i.e. negligent per se. When a party is found negligent as a matter of law it means they cannot offer a defense for their actions.

To prove negligence per se, a plaintiff must show that there is a statute (in this case, the dangerous dog statute), that a violation of that statute caused harm of the kind that the statute was intended to avoid and the harm was done to a person with a class of persons that the statute was designed to protect. McCloud v. McLaughlin, 837 A.2d 541 (Pa. Super. 2003).

With this in mind there are two key statutes plaintiffs in Pennsylvania can rely upon to support a claim of negligence per se for a dog bit injury:

1. Pennsylvania's Leash Law, 3 P.S. Section 459-305 states "It shall be unlawful for the owner or keeper of any dog to fail to keep at all times such dog either: (1) confined within the premises of the owner; (2) firmly secured by a means of collar and chair or other device so that is cannot stray beyond the premises on which it is secured; or (3) under the reasonable control of some person, or when engaged in lawful hunting, expedition or field training."

2. Dangerous Dog Statute, P.S. Section 459-501-A through Section 459-507 makes it s summary offense to harbor a dangerous dog. Specifically Any person who has been attacked by one or more dogs, or anyone on behalf of such person, a person whose domestic animal has been killed or injured without provocation, the State dog warden or the local police officer may file a complaint before a district justice, charging the owner or keeper of such a dog with harboring a dangerous dog. The owner or keeper of a dog shall be guilty of the summary offense of harboring a dangerous dog if the district justice finds beyond a reasonable doubt that the following elements of the offense have been proven: (1) The dog has done one or more of the following:
(i) Inflicted severe injury on a human being without provocation on public or private property. (ii) Killed or inflicted severe injury on a domestic animal without provocation while off the owner’s property. (iii) Attacked a human being without provocation. (iv) Been used in the commission of a crime. (2) The dog has either or both of the following: (i) A history of attacking human beings and/or domestic animals without provocation.
(ii) A propensity to attack human beings and/or domestic animals without provocation. A propensity to attack may be proven by a single incident of the conduct described in paragraphs (1)(i), (ii), (iii) or (iv).  (3) The defendant is the owner or keeper of the dog.

Pennsylvania victims of dog attacks can strengthen their cases tremendously by demonstrating that the defendant dog owner violated a portion of one of the above laws and that that violation led to the attack.  If you are in dog bite litigation, make sure your attorney has investigated whether a claim for negligence per se could be supported by the facts of your case.

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