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Punitive Damages May Be Recoverable In PA Dog Attack/Injury Lawsuits

On July 1, 2014, Judge William T. Tully in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas allowed a PA dog attack victim to pursue punitive damages in a personal injury lawsuit against the dog owner after overruling the dog owner's preliminary objections to the victim's complaint.  Bitting v. Schaffner, #2013-CV-11100.

PA Dog Attack Lawsuits - Negligence

In general, PA dog attack/bite lawsuits are based on the theory of negligence, i.e., the dog owner was negligent which resulted in his dog attacking/biting the victim.  For example, a dog owner is negligent when he takes his dog out for a walk unleashed, and the dog attacks an individual walking on the street.  A dog owner is also negligent when he knows his dog escaped from the backyard on multiple occasions due to a broken gate and continues to leave the dog in the backyard which led to the dog escaping and biting a child. In both of these cases, the dog owners are negligent and are responsible for the injuries of the victims. 

In lawsuits based on the theory of negligence, victims may recover the following damages:

  • past/future medical expenses;
  • past/future lost wages;
  • out of pocket medical expenses; and
  • pain and suffering.

Related: Legal Recourse After a Dog Bite - By A Philadelphia Dog Bite Lawyer

Punitive Damages Claims

Punitive damages are typically not damages accident victims can recover in negligence lawsuits.  A punitive damages claim is usually allowed when the at-fault party or defendant acts in such a way that he shows a patent disregard for the safety of others.  When a defendant acts negligently, he inadvertently causes harm to another person, such as causing a rear-end accident because he was not paying attention to the traffic ahead.  When a defendant's actions are not inadvertent and warrant punitive damages, he consciously puts others at risk. That defendant subjectively intends harm or deliberately disregards another person's rights.

In Bitting, a Federal Express delivery person was attacked by 3 boxers at a home where she was making a delivery in 2012.  The dogs had attacked another Federal Express driver before, but did not actually bite the driver.  Despite knowing about the prior attack, the boxers' owner continued to allow his dogs to be unrestrained and unsupervised outside of the house.  Based on the dogs' prior vicious propensities, the judge stated that a punitive damages claim existed.

In addition, punitive damages were also warranted in this case because the dog owner was previously convicted by a District Justice of failing to confine his boxers, but continued to allow his dogs to be unrestrained and unsupervised.

Though the judge allowed punitive damages claims in the lawsuit, it is up to the jury to decide whether the dog owner's actions warrant punitive damages.

A Dog Attack Case Result Obtained By Daniel J. O'Brien, Esq.: $1,000,000 settlement after dog attacks owner

Help After A PA Dog Attack

Were you or your child attacked by a dog in PA? You have legal rights. Call Daniel J.  O'Brien, an experienced dog attack lawyer to schedule a FREE case evaluation.  877.944.8396


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