Monday, May 11, 2015

Violation of Dangerous Dog Law in Dog Bite Case Equals Negligence Per Se

In the case of Harrison v. Haueisen, PICS Case. No. 15-0607 (C.P. Lycoming Co. April 2, 2015 Gray, J.), Judge Richard Gray of the Lycoming County Court of Common Pleas denied a Defendant’s Preliminary Objections to a Plaintiff’s Complaint in a dog bite case.

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiffs were allegedly injured when they were injured attacked by a dog while walking on the sidewalk of a public street. No provocation by the Plaintiffs was indicated.

In their Complaint, the Plaintiffs alleged that the dog had previously bitten a child, that the Defendant owner knew or should have known that the dog had dangerous propensities, and that neighbors had previously complained to the Defendant about their failure to restrain the dog and about the dog’s alleged vicious propensities. Moreover, it was alleged that, shortly before the incident, a complaint was made to the Williamsport Police about a separate dog biting incident.

The Defendant owner filed Preliminary Objections in the form of a demurrer based upon an alleged violation of the dangerous dog law. The second preliminary objection was a demurrer to the punitive damages claim.

The court rejected the Defendant’s arguments that a violation of the Dangerous Dog Law did not amount to negligence per se. To the contrary, the court ruled that the Pennsylvania Superior Court had previously held that an unexcused violation of a statute constitutes negligence per se.

As such, taking the Plaintiff’s factual allegations as true as required by the standard of review, the court concluded that a violation of the Dangerous Dog Law could form the basis for a liability finding. As such, this initial Preliminary Objection was denied.

However, the court emphasized that, liability in this respect was not absolute as the negligence per se doctrine did not impose strict liability. Rather, the Plaintiff still had to prove causation and the extent of damages.

With regards to the demurrer to the claims for punitive damages, the court found that the Plaintiff had pled sufficient facts to support that claim. The Plaintiff asserted that the Defendants had a subjective appreciation of the risk of harm to which the Plaintiffs were exposed and that the Defendants acted or failed to act in a manner that showed a conscious disregard of that risk. Accordingly, this claim was allowed to proceed.

Anyone wishing to review this Harrison decision may click this LINK.


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