What To Do in Pennsylvania if Your Child Is Attacked by a Dog
Seek medical attention, then legal assistance for compensationBy Super Lawyers staff | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on July 10, 2023 Featuring practical insights from contributing attorney Erin K. Rudert
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- Seek Immediate Medical Attention, and Follow Up
- Document and Report the Dog Bite
- Get Help From a Pennsylvania Dog Bite Injury Lawyer
Young children face a disproportionate risk from domestic animals According to data from the UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, more than half of all dog bite victims in the U.S. are kids.
Not only are children at higher risk of being attacked, but they are more likely to suffer severe injuries, like disfigurement. If you are a parent whose child was hurt in a dog attack, you need to know how to get justice for your family.
This article provides a guide to the steps that you need to take if your child suffered a dog bite injury in Pennsylvania.
Seek Immediate Medical Attention, and Follow Up
Dog attack injuries sustained by children require professional medical attention. Emergency medical care is needed if a child suffers a severe injury.
“Number one, make sure that the child is OK,” says Erin Rudert, a personal injury attorney at Ainsman Levine in Pittsburgh. “Assess the wounds. See how much bleeding there is, if the skin has been pierced, or if it’s just bruising.”
Beyond that, seemingly “mild” or “moderate” animal attack injuries should also be evaluated by a doctor.
“One thing to keep in mind is that with animal bites in particular, they’re very, very prone to infection,” Rudert says. “So even something that appears to be minor laceration should be check out just to see if they may need antibiotics or something more than just general wound care.”
Knowing more about the dog can be an important factor in medical care. Identify the dog involved and ask the owner about the dog’s vaccination status, as there is a risk of rabies. If that’s not possible, due to conflicts with the owner or difficulties identifying the dog or stray dog, Rudert says you should contact law enforcement, local animal control, or the state dog warden to see if the dog can be identified and secured for rabies monitoring.
Follow-up care for the child can extend beyond the physical injuries. Some children have nightmares or develop fears of dogs.
“There’s that really emotional or psychological aspect of having been the victim of a dog bite, especially if it was a larger dog or the dog bit the child in the face,” Rudert says. “Very frequently we see circumstances where kids need to potentially have contact with a counselor or some other type of intervention.”
Some injuries, like those to the face, may need further assessment for scarring or cosmetic surgery.
Document and Report the Dog Bite
Your child’s medical needs always come first. Parents need to make sure that their child sees a doctor if they are considering pursuing a dog bite claim. Medical records are required to recover financial compensation and medical expenses.
Once the situation has stabilized and the child is safe, document the animal attack. Under Pennsylvania state law, dog bite injury claims are generally fault-based legal cases. The more evidence you have, the better position you will be in to prove liability. Relevant evidence includes photographs, witness statements, and notes.
The more you can find out about the dog, the better, Rudert says. For example, you should document if the dog has a history of other attacks or bites.
“One thing that’s important here is that a dog doesn’t have to bite to be a dangerous dog,” Rudert says. “So we could be talking about a bite, or it could be a situation where a dog knocks the child down or chases a child and the child gets injured in the process of fleeing the dog.”
Get Help From a Pennsylvania Dog Bite Injury Lawyer
Dog bite injury claims are complex. A Pennsylvania dog bite attorney can help with the investigation and documentation, and ease the process of identifying rabies vaccination status, working with difficult dog owners, dealing with animal control, identifying the insurance company, and more.
“The ability to investigate at the outset is helpful for counsel, and [can help determine] whether there is even a potential avenue of recovery,” Rudert says. “Having that identified early on can also help the parents understand their potential future responsibility for the child’s medical care.”
Hiring a Pennsylvania personal injury attorney who is proficient in dog bite law can especially help with situations where the dog owner is not the most cooperative, Rudert says. In cases where the owner is a family or friend, and parents are hesitant, Rudert says it’s important to remember most cases are pursuing liability insurance, rather than the individual.
“I think people should have the understanding that this is for the child’s benefit, and you don’t want to not pursue something and then, later, have it be to your own kid’s detriment,” Rudert says.
Under Pennsylvania law, a dog owner can be held strictly liable for the cost of medical treatment related to injuries caused by their animal. Proving fault is not required to get compensation for medical bills only. However, a Pennsylvania dog owner is only liable for other damages, including pain and suffering, if the plaintiff can prove fault. A dog owner can be held liable if:
- They knew that their animal had an “unmistakably vicious tendencies”
- They failed to take proper precautions to control the animal.
Most cases are settled at some point in time out of court, Rudert says, though a trial is always a possibility. Often, injury cases are filed because plaintiffs have not identified homeowners’ insurance coverage or the dog owner is not cooperating.
Damages in these cases tend to focus more on the non-economic value of the psychological effects of being a victim and not just medical bills, says Rudert.
If your child was injured by a dangerous dog, a law firm or an experienced Pennsylvania animal bite attorney will help you with your dog bite case and get the full and fair financial compensation that you deserve. Most attorneys offer a free consultation. For more information about this area of law, see our overview of animal bites.
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