Monday, October 7, 2019

Demurrer Denied in Dog Bite Case

In the case of Roegner v. Steezar, No. 2019-CV-929 (C.P. Lacka. Co. Sept. 6, 2019 Nealon, J.), the court addressed Preliminary Objections filed by a dog owner in a dog bite case in which the Defendant filed a demurrer seeking to dismiss the action on the grounds that the allegations of the Complaint were legally insufficient to state a claim of negligence against the dog owner.  

According to the Opinion, the Plaintiffs were the guests at the property of the Defendants, Joseph Steezar and Maryellen Steezar, when the Plaintiff was suddenly attacked by a pit bull that was owned by Defendant, Ryan Steezar.  

The Plaintiffs filed a premises liability claim against the Steezars and further asserted that Ryan Steezar engaged in negligent conduct, careless conduct, gross, wanton, and reckless conduct for failing to adequately control the pit bull when he knew or should have known that the dog had a tendency to attack and had dangerous propensities.   The Plaintiff additionally alleged that Ryan Steezar had violated the dog law by failing to properly confine, secure or control his dog and/or by harboring a dangerous animal.  

The Defendant dog owner filed a demurrer asserting that Pennsylvania law establishes that no absolute liability can be imposed upon a dog owner for injuries caused by dogs. Rather, proof of the owner’s negligence is required, such as showing that the owner had prior knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensities.   

The Defendant asserted a demurrer indicating that the Plaintiff’s Complaint contained no allegations which would allow for the imposition of liability under Pennsylvania law for the Plaintiff’s alleged injuries.   

The court agreed with the Defendant that the mere ownership of a dog does not subject a dog owner to absolute liability for injuries caused by the dog.   

Judge Terrence R. Nealon
Lackawanna County
Judge Nealon referred to the settle law that provides that, for a victim of a dog bit to establish negligence on the part of the dog’s owner, the victim must prove that (1) the dog had dangerous propensities; (2) the owner knew, or had reason to know, that the dog had those dangerous propensities; and (3) the owner failed to exercise reasonable care to secure or control the dog so as to prevent it from injuring another person.  

The court additionally stated that a dog’s dangerous propensity is determined by the dog’s behavior rather than its breed.  It was also noted that a large overly-friendly dog that jumps on to people may be considered to be judged as dangerous as a vicious dog.   

Under Pennsylvania law, there is no distinction between an animal that is dangerous and viciousness and one that this merely dangerous from playfulness.   

Accepting the Plaintiff’s allegations in the Complaint as true as required by the standard of review for a demurrer, the court found that Plaintiff had stated a cognizable cause of action in negligence against the dog owner.  

As such, the demurrer was denied and the court suggested that the Defendant could revisit the issue once discovery is completed.  

Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.

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