Pennsylvania has had a "Dog Law" for many years. Under an early version of the law, Pennsylvania adopted what became known as the "one free bite" rule. Under this law, the owner of a dog was not liable to the first victim that his or her dog attacked. A dog owner was only liable if the dog had previously attacked a victim. The theory behind this law was that a dog owner could not be charged with knowledge or "notice" of the dog's vicious propensities unless and until the dog first attacked and bit someone without provocation.
In 1996, the Pennsylvania legislature amended the Dog Law. The 1996 amendments criminalized both unprovoked dog attacks resulting in severe injury and unprovoked attacks in cases in which there was a clear prior history of viciousness displayed by the dog. The 1996 Dog Law also criminalized "harboring a dangerous dog". However, the 1996 amendments did not clearly and unequivocally eliminate the "one free bite rule" in all cases. Courts interpreted the 1996 law to provide that where an unprovoked attack resulted in severe injury, the victim did not have to prove prior viciousness. In cases of unprovoked attacks resulting in non-serious injury, the victim did have to prove a history of viciousness.
Finally, in 2008, the Pennsylvania Dog Law was once again amended, this time in a much more meaningful way. Under the current Dog Law, a dog owner can be held liable for a first and single attack, so long as the dog showed the requisite level of viciousness. Appellate Courts which have interpreted the 2008 Pennsylvania Dog Law have held that the facts and circumstances surrounding the first and only attack can be sufficient to prove the requisite viciousness of the subject dog. In other words, a dog attack victim no longer has to show that the particular attack was the "second" attack or that the dog owner was aware of any prior attacks. If a dog in Pennsylvania attacks a person and the circumstances indicate a viscous temperament, the dog owner may be found liable.
Under Pennsylvania law, dogs must be under proper and adequate control. This means that they must be confined to an owner's property, leashed or otherwise maintained within reasonable control of the owner or another person. This is referred to as the "Leash Law." Violation of the Leash Law can result in liability for a dog attack if it is shown that the violation was unexcused and that the violation substantially contributed to the attack. A finding of an unexcused violation of the Leash law can constitute "negligence per se."
Pennsylvania has a two year Statute of Limitations for negligence cases, including dog attack cases. A lawsuit must be filed within two years of the attack. If the victim is a minor, the suit must be filed within two years of the victim's eighteenth birthday.
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