No. Not right. This is one of the most common misconceptions in Pennsylvania law regarding dog bites. I have had seasoned veteran lawyers call to confirm this with me and have had clients come to me after being incorrectly advised by a lawyer that they don’t have a case because this was the first time the attacking dog ever bit anyone.
Let me set you straight on this!
Recent changes to Pennsylvania’s criminal dog law have made it easier for a dog bite victim to pursue a claim even if this was the dog’s first attack. For years in Pennsylvania, it was the “common law” that an owner was not responsible for a dog bite unless he knew or had reason to know of his dog’s “vicious propensity.” This is often incorrectly called the “one free bite rule.” Older cases in Pennsylvania indicated that a dog that did not show prior vicious tendencies might not be responsible for a first bite. It was implied that the only way that an owner could have knowledge of his dog’s vicious tendencies was that the dog had bitten previously. However, there are actually many ways that a dog owner could have notice of its dog’s vicious propensities, including the fact that the dog had a tendency to fight with other dogs, that there was a warning sign on the owner’s property or that the owner had made statements about the dog’s tendencies to other people.
Under our law, the owner’s awareness that its dog tends to bite or attack can be enough to make the dog owner legally responsible for even the first bite. For this reason there really is no “one free bite” rule.
In addition, there have been recent changes to the Pennsylvania dog law which establish criminal liability for harm done by domestic animals. The Pennsylvania legislature, through a 1996 legislative amendment, made a law that imposes absolute criminal liability on a dog owner for any unprovoked attack. In other words, Pennsylvania imposes criminal liability on a dog owner, under certain circumstances, for a dog bite regardless of whether it is a first bite. Under the 1996 amendments to the dog law, it is not necessary to show that the owner knew or should have known that the dog was dangerous. Further, it is not necessary to show evidence of a dog’s history of viciousness. The dog’s vicious nature may be proven by virtue of the single attack in question, even if this is a first sign of the viciousness of the dog. The amendments to the dog law now make it much easier to recover in civil court by dog bite claim.
If all of this sounds confusing to you, don’t hesitate to call us at the Worthington Law Group, located in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania area, to have us explain dog bite laws more fully. We never charge to consult with you and are happy to help whether you hire us or not.