Friday, April 3, 2015

Negligence Per Se Pleading Allowed in Federal Dog Bite Case; But Proof of Causation Still Required

In what appears to be a rare Federal Court dog bite case, Judge A. Richard Caputo of the Federal Middle District Court of Pennsylvania addressed allegations of negligence per se in the case of Hughes v. Badaracco-Apolito, 2015 U.S. Dist. Lexis 18834 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 17, 2015 Caputo, J.). 

In addressing motions pertaining to the validity of pleadings, Judge Caputo ruled that a Plaintiff may proceed on a Dog Law negligence per se claim.  However, the court noted that while such a negligence per se claim could be pled, a Dog Law criminal conviction does not establish negligence per se because causation remains to be established as well. 
Judge A. Richard Caputo
M.D. Pa.
Moreover, the court noted that Summary Dog Law convictions are summary offense convictions which are not even admissible in civil litigation to establish causation by way of the collateral estoppel doctrine.
Accordingly, while the Plaintiff was allowed to plead negligence per se based upon a Dog Law conviction, the court stated that the Plaintiff still had the burden of proving causation at trial.
The court otherwise dismissed the punitive damages claims that were pled in this Hughes case.  The Plaintiff had asserted a claim for punitive damages that was based, in part, on an allegation that the Defendant failed to have the dog on a leash.  Judge Caputo noted that merely failing to leash dogs does not establish the necessary outrageous conduct required to pursue punitive damages.

In his Opinion, Judge Caputo alsoreiterated the long-standing rule of law that dog owners are not absolutely or strictly liable in tort for damages caused by their dogs.  Rather, negligence on the part of the dog owner must be established.

Anyone wishing to review a copy of Judge Caputo's decision in the Hughes case may click this LINK 

I send thanks to Attorney James Beck of the Philadelphia office of Reed Smith for bringing this case to my attention.  I highly recommend that you check out Attorney Beck's award-winning and nationally recognized blog, the Drug and Device Law Blog, which can be accessed at this LINK.

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