Pittsburgh Dog Bite Injury Attorneys
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that nearly 4.5 million Americans suffer from dog bites every year. A full half of these are children. In 2012, over 27,000 victims had to undergo reconstructive surgery to correct the damage caused by the dog bites. Nearly 900,000 had to get medical attention to treat their dog bites.
According to the Allegheny County Health Department (ACD), from 2013 to 2020, the annual number of reported dog bites in that county increased by 27 percent, from 1,777 bites in 2013 to 2,252 bites in 2020.
Dog bites can cause serious injuries, particularly if the dog is infected with rabies or the victim was bitten severely or in multiple locations. Populations like seniors and children are particularly vulnerable to serious complications. They are the most likely to be hospitalized and require treatments like debridement, sutures, and skin grafts.
If you’ve been a victim of a dog bite, it’s likely that the incident could have been prevented, and was caused by another party’s negligence. Dog owners are responsible for keeping their dogs under control. If they fail to do that, you can hold them liable as long as you have the evidence needed to prove your case.
The Pittsburgh, PA dog bite lawyers at Chaffin Luhana encourage victims of serious dog bites to call for a complementary consultation. We have experience in these types of cases and can help evaluate the evidence to determine if you may be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit.
When you work with us, you can rest assured that we have your best interests at heart, and will do everything we can to get you the compensation you deserve.
To learn more, schedule a free no-obligation consultation or call us now at 1-888-480-1123.
Dog Bite Liability in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania state law defines when a person may recover damages after being bit by a dog. For example, if the dog was previously considered to be dangerous or was not properly contained or leashed, the owner may be liable for damages, including lost wages, permanent disfigurement, mental anguish, and pain and suffering.
A dangerous dog is one that has a history of being aggressive without provocation in the past including but not limited to: aggressive behavior, attacking people, or has injured or killed a domestic animal.
Dog owners do have some possible defenses they can use. If the dog owner can show that the victim provoked the dog, that may excuse them from liability. Or if the person who was bitten was trespassing at the time, the dog owner may not be liable.
Types of Dog Bite Injuries
Sometimes dogs don’t break the skin when they bite, and the individual can walk away without any concerns. Other times, however, the injuries can be moderate to severe.
Puncture wounds, lacerations, and abrasions
A puncture wound is any wound that breaks through the skin. These can be dangerous if they are deep and cause heavy bleeding, as they may damage the underlying tissues, nerves, and blood vessels.
Even minor puncture wounds are prone to infection, which can cause further complications. Lacerations and abrasions must also be carefully watched for symptoms of infection.
Eye, nose, and other face injuries
These types of injuries can be scarring and disfiguring and may cause the victim substantial pain, suffering, and psychological harm. They may also require cosmetic surgery or even numerous cosmetic procedures to help restore the victim’s appearance and their ability to see, smell, chew, and breathe.
Dogs carry germs in their mouths that can cause infections in people. Signs of infection include redness, pain, swelling, and inflammation at the site of the bite or scratch. If you notice these symptoms, seek immediate medical treatment.
Fractures or broken bones
Some dogs have extremely powerful jaw muscles that can cause fractures and broken bones, or even crushed bones, particularly in young children. Since dogs frequently attack the hands, face, neck, and legs, they can break bones in all of these locations, particularly smaller bones in the face and hands.
Head and neck injuries
Infants and young children can be severely injured in dog attacks. Their skull bones are thin, and a dog’s teeth can puncture the skull and even cause brain injuries. Neck injuries leading to long-term pain and treatment may also be possible in both children and adults.
In October 2021, the BBC reported that a man was facing a double leg amputation due to a dog that left him with a fatal infection. Such serious injuries may be rare, but they are possible and devastating to the victims. Smaller amputations—such as having to lose a finger due to a dog bite—are also possible.
Scars and disfigurement
A dog attack can leave a person with significant scars and disfigurement, often to the face and head. Dogs often bite people in the face, either because the person’s face was close or because their instinct is to go for the face and neck. Sometimes victims are attacked by multiple dogs at once, which can result in more serious and permanent disfigurement.
Rabies is a type of infection that can spread to humans through a dog bite from an infected animal. Fortunately, most dogs are vaccinated against the disease today, but it remains a risk if the owner failed in this basic responsibility.
All Dog Bite Injuries Can Become Serious
All of these injuries can become serious. Infections can spread to the entire body and may require extended hospital stays. Puncture wounds and lacerations on the face can cause scarring ad disfigurement that may require multiple surgeries and reconstruction.
Fingers and hands can be lost to severe bites, affecting the victim’s ability to work and go about his or her normal daily activities, and potentially causing lasting disability.
How to Select a Dog Bite Attorney in Pittsburgh
When you’re dealing with the ramifications of a dog bite, it’s important to have a lawyer that has experience with your type of case. They will be able to determine what claims you may be able to make and explain the state and local laws that apply.
An experienced dog attack lawyer will also help you collect the evidence you need to prove negligence, including medical records, police reports, witness statements, expert testimony, photographic and video evidence, information on the owner and the dog that may be relevant (particularly if the dog bit someone before), and more.
Pursuing legal action on your own can be difficult, as the legalities can be complicated. It’s also best to have someone fighting for your interests, as that can help ensure that you will recover the damages that you are owed.
When choosing the right attorney for your dog bite case, look for one with specific experience in handling these types of cases. That experience can improve your chances of succeeding.
Then request a free consultation to get an idea of how the lawyer may manage your case. At Chaffin Luhana, we are happy to meet with you to go over the details of what happened. We’ll give you the information you need to determine whether you’d like to work with us. We can also help you to understand your rights in your particular situation.
What Our Clients Have to Say About Chaffin Luhana
Below is a small sampling of the testimonials we have received from our clients:
Over $2.5 Million Recovery
“Well explained and speedy resolution. Received a much higher settlement than anticipated.”
– Birgit C., Product Liability Injury Client
Over $1.5 Million Recovery
“As a client of this firm, I would highly recommend this firm for the experience, consideration, and quality they as a group showed.”
– Anonymous, Consumer Client
Multi-Million Dollar Recovery
“We were made to feel important and deserving. Couldn’t have asked for more. The way our case was handled exceeded our expectations!”
– Anonymous, Personal Injury Client
Automobile Accident Victim
Find more testimonials here.
Dedication to Community
Law partners Eric Chaffin and Roopal Luhana, along with their families, established The Chaffin Luhana Foundation in 2010.
A not-for-profit organization, the Foundation encourages the development of human potential and supports community empowerment through the following activities:
- Scholarships: Chaffin Luhana Foundation awards an annual scholarship to a student who helps us in the fight against distracted driving by submitting an inspiring personal essay.
- Financial gifts: The Foundation awards periodic financial gifts to institutions of higher learning to support scientific research and funds educational scholarships to students.
- Stephanie Victor Legacy Award: The Chaffin Luhana Foundation awards an annual financial gift to one deserving individual who overcame significant challenges and achieved great milestones in his or her life or career.
- Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation: Chaffin Luhana has partnered with this organization to benefit those living with spinal cord injuries and paralysis.
- Najee Harris Partnership: We have partnered with Pittsburgh Running Back, Najee Harris, and his Da’ Bigger Picture Foundation to support those in need in the Greater Pittsburgh area.
The founding partners of Chaffin Luhana have extensive experience in fighting for plaintiffs’ rights:
- Founder Eric Chaffin: Chaffin has handled a wide array of cases against various types of manufacturers, with dozens of multimillion-dollar recoveries.
- Founder Roopal Luhana: Luhana manages the firm’s mass torts division. Throughout her career, she has served on committees in MDLs involving over-the-counter consumer products and defective pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
- Partner Patrick Booth: Booth enjoys using his knowledge and experience to help his clients obtain the best results possible in their personal injury cases.
Chaffin Luhana lawyers have also been named to the prestigious “Super Lawyers” list several years in a row. The Super Lawyers research staff chooses only outstanding lawyers who have attained a high degree of peer recognition and professional achievement to be named to their exclusive list, recognizing no more than five percent of attorneys in New York.
Chaffin & Luhana LLP
615 Iron City Dr,
Pittsburgh, PA 15205
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
A dog bite incident is much like an auto accident. In most cases, you should contact the police. That way you can get a police report, which can serve as important evidence should you need to pursue a dog bite lawsuit.
If the bite caused only very superficial damage that can be treated with simple first aid, then you may not need to call the police. It’s still a good idea, though, to report the incident within 24 hours to local animal officials. This helps create a record on that particular dog, in case it’s bitten people before or may bite someone again in the future.
If the incident caused severe injuries, seek medical attention immediately, then contact the police. This is also important if the dog is still in the area acting aggressively, or if there is a question about the dog’s vaccination history.
Finally, report the dog bite to the dog owner, if you can. If the owner is not around, tell the person in control of the dog at the time, or ask for the name and contact information of the owner.
There are a few major concerns with dog bites.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, roughly 50 percent of dog bites introduce bacteria—including staphylococcus, streptococcus, and past eurella, as well as capnocytophaga. Unvaccinated dogs may also carry rabies, so it’s very important to clean the wound immediately to help prevent infection. In rare cases, dog bites can lead to tetanus, a bacterial infection that can cause painful muscle contractions.
Signs of infection include swelling and redness around the wound, drainage from the wound, and a warm feeling around the wound.
Scarring and Disfigurement
Many dog attacks can inflict wounds that permanently scar, disfigure, or maim the victim. Some victims, particularly children, may suffer these types of injuries in visible places like the face. Victims may require stitches, skin grafts, plastic surgery, and more to help minimize the appearance of the scarring, and may be left with permanent scars that mar their appearance.
In addition to the physical health risks, there are also mental health risks of a dog bite incident. A dog attack survivor may suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and be left with lasting psychological scars that cause nightmares, anxiety, sleep problems, and recurring fear around other dogs.
According to Quote Wizard, the average cost per dog bite claim in the nation is about $43,000. In 2019, there were nearly 18,000 dog bite claims in the U.S., totaling $802 million in total claim value—up $129 million from 2018.
When analyzing insurance information and other databases, Quote Wizard found that the average cost per claim in Pennsylvania was $35,561. And though every case is unique, successful plaintiffs can expect anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 for their injuries.
Keep in mind that the total amount will be based on these factors:
- Medical expenses
- Lost wages
- Pain and suffering
- Disability benefits
In Pennsylvania, whenever a dog bites or injures someone, the owner is financially liable for the cost of all medical treatments related to the injury. That means there is no argument here—and you don’t have to prove fault. So if all you require is reimbursement for your medical expenses, you may not need to sue.
If, however, you suffered from other losses, such as pain and suffering and lost income, these are not automatically covered. To receive compensation for these losses, you will need to file a dog bite injury claim.
To have a successful case, you will need to prove that the harm you suffered resulted from the dog owner’s negligence. That means you need to show that the owner knew the dog had “vicious tendencies,” and that the owner failed to take reasonable steps to properly control the animal.
In the past, Pennsylvania courts have held that a dog can demonstrate vicious tendencies even if it hasn’t bitten someone before. In addition, if you can prove that the owner violated the law that requires the animal to be restrained, you will likely recover your damages. A dog bite lawyer can help you navigate the state laws to improve your odds of a successful outcome.
As mentioned above, in Pennsylvania, if you are bitten by a dog, the owner is liable for your medical expenses. If you suffered from other losses, you must file a dog bite lawsuit to recover those.
To have a viable case, you must be able to prove that the dog owner knew or should have known that his dog could be dangerous or vicious and that they failed to keep the dog confined on the property or a leash. Pennsylvania has a leash law that requires owners to maintain control over their dogs at all times.
That means if the dog was not on the owner’s property or a leash when the bite occurred, the owner will likely be found liable for damages.
As for proving the dog was dangerous if you can show any of the following apply, that will help your case:
- Prior bad behavior: Show that the dog repeatedly behaved in a threatening manner. You can gather video evidence and perhaps witness testimony of consistent growling or lunging at people, baring teeth, or barking ferociously at passersby.
- Attack breeds: Certain breeds, because they were bred for protection or as attack dogs, may be generally recognized as potentially dangerous. These may include the pit bull, Rottweiler, German shepherd, and Doberman.
- Mauling: If the first attack is severe, it may be reasonable to assume that the owner knew the dog was dangerous.
The dog owner does have possible defense claims they can make in a dog bite lawsuit. If they can show that the victim was trespassing on the dog owner’s property at the time of the incident, for example, they may not be held liable for damages caused by the dog.
Other factors may apply as well, including whether the victim provoked the attack. If the victim took food or a favorite toy away from the dog and it bit or snapped in return, the victim may not have a case.
The statute of limitations for dog bite claims is generally two years from the date of the attack. That means you have two years from the day the bite occurred to file a dog bite lawsuit. Once that date passes, you can no longer file a case concerning that incident.
There is one exception. If the victim of the attack was a child, the child typically has two years from their 18th birthday to file a dog bite lawsuit.
It’s best, however, to seek assistance for a potential dog bite lawsuit as soon as you can. It takes time to fully investigate an attack and to build a strong case. Once you suspect that you may need to file a case, contact Chaffin Luhana for a free initial consultation.
In most cases, the dog owner is the one that will be held liable should the dog bite or injure someone.
In some cases, however, someone else may share in that liability. Perhaps a caretaker was responsible for the dog at the time—a kennel owner, dog groomer, vet technician, shelter employee, professional dog walker, or professional pet sitter. Pennsylvania law defines an "owner" as including every person having a right of property in the dog, every person who keeps or harbors the dog or has it in their care, and every person who permits the dog to remain on their property.
That means, in essence, that possession is the general defining indication of ownership. If a person lets an acquaintance stay in her home for a few weeks with his dog, for instance, and the dog bites someone, a court may determine that the person hosting the acquaintance is at least partially liable because they were harboring the dog at the time.
A landlord, too, may be held partially responsible for injuries inflicted by a tenant’s animals in some circumstances. In Pennsylvania, the following two factors must be proven to hold a landlord liable:
- The landlord had actual prior knowledge of the animal's violent tendencies
- The landlord had the right to control the rental premises
Things can get more complicated when you're talking about a friend who walks the dog as a favor or a neighbor who agrees to watch the dog while the owner is on vacation. In these cases, potential liability is less clear. Watch out for local laws, as well, as they may define dog ownership more broadly than state laws. Your dog bite attorney can guide you toward your best approach when seeking compensation.
Depending on the situation, an insurance company may pay a legal claim resulting from an animal bite injury.
In most cases, the owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy will cover liability arising from dog bites that occur on that property. The average amount of liability coverage is between $100,000 and $300,000—enough to cover the claims in most cases.
Many of these policies, however, will cover these damages only the first time. If the dog causes an injury a second time, the owner may be out of luck, as most insurance policies contain language that says they will cover only the first incident. Some insurance companies may also refuse to cover claims related to certain dog breeds like Pit Bulls or Rottweilers.
If the incident occurs away from the owner’s property, it depends on the insurance company whether they will cover the damages and how much they will cover. If the owner was walking the dog at the park when the incident occurred, the insurance company may still cover the expenses. But if the incident occurs in another state, they may not.
Homeowner’s insurance will not usually cover a dog bite that occurs in a car, but automobile insurance might. If the dog bit someone while in the back of a pickup truck, for instance, the auto insurance may cover it, but it depends on the policy.
Finally, there are insurance companies that provide insurance for pet owners. If the owner has this type of insurance, it will likely cover any expenses from a first incident, but often not for a second.
There are some cases where the owner does not have insurance that covers animal bites. Then, the owner will have to find a way to cover them on their own.
After a dog bite incident, take the following actions:
- If the injury is serious, call 911 immediately. Otherwise, get medical attention as soon as you can.
- Call the police.
- Identify the dog and its owner if you can.
- Report the incident to animal control.
- Gather all the evidence you can. Write down what happened, including information like the time, date, and location of the attack, the breed of the dog, the owner (if known), and any witnesses. Take pictures of your injury, any torn clothing, and of the dog if possible, as well as of the location.
- Consult with a Pittsburgh dog bite lawyer.
Several factors can make dog bite cases difficult. Having a dog bite attorney on your side improves your chances of getting the compensation you deserve.
- You may be reluctant to offend the dog’s owner. A dog bite attorney can help you successfully pursue your claims while maintaining a respectful relationship with the dog’s owner.
- Some evidence can be difficult to obtain. Though you can take pictures of your wounds and gather information on the owner, it can be difficult to determine the dog’s history. An experienced dog bite lawyer knows how to do this.
- Juries can be sympathetic to dog owners. After all, many people own dogs and understand that sometimes they may misbehave, or circumstances may occur that cause them to act differently than they usually do. A successful dog bite attorney can help persuade a jury that this dog was different and that you deserve to be compensated for your injuries.
- Liability can be complicated. Maybe in your case, a kennel owner, landlord, or another party should be held partially responsible for the dog bite injuries. Your dog bite attorney can help guide you through these issues.
- Some injuries are complex and long-lasting. If a child was injured in a dog bite incident, they may require plastic surgery in the future or psychological treatment. An experienced dog bite attorney can make sure that the award you receive is enough to cover present and future medical treatments.
- If the bite happened years ago, but the victim was a minor at the time, they may decide to file a claim when they turn 18. The case will be “cold” by then, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be successful. A dog bite attorney can help you gather the information you need.