Thursday, June 17, 2021

Negligence Per Se and Punitive Damages Claims Allowed to Proceed in Dog Bite Case Based on Violation of The Rabies Act



In the case of Philips v. Horvath, No. 536-CV-2021 (C.P. Monroe Co. May 14, 2021 Williamson, J.), Judge David J. Williamson of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas address Preliminary Objections filed by a Defendant against a Plaintiff dog bite Complaint on the issues of punitive damages.

The Plaintiff alleged that he was attacked by the Defendant’s dog, as a result of which the Plaintiff had to seek out treatment, including receiving six (6) rabies injections.

The Defendants filed Preliminary Objections, in part, against the Plaintiff’s claims of negligence per se based upon an allegation that the facts confirmed a violation of the Pennsylvania Rabies Control Act. The Defendant filed a Preliminary Objection stating that this claims should be dismissed on the basis that the Plaintiffs failed to allege an injury that was proximately related to that alleged violation of that Act.

The Defendants claimed that the Plaintiff has failed to show that the failure on the part of the Plaintiff to vaccinate their dog from rabies resulted in injuries to the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff countered with the argument that part of the alleged injuries sustained involving the Plaintiff having received rabies shots as a result of the bite, which resulted in thousands of dollars’ worth of medical records as well as emotional distress related to the fear of contracting rabies.

Judge Williamson sided with the Plaintiff. The court found that the Plaintiff was not arguing that the dog bite itself was negligence per se but rather the failure to the Defendants to vaccinate the dog and with respect to the separate injuries that resulted to the Plaintiff in addition to the dog bite itself. 

More specifically, the Plaintiff not only alleged that he sustained a laceration from the bite by the Defendants’ dog, but also had to receive a total of six (6) injections in order to be sure that he would not contract rabies. The Plaintiff additionally claims a monetary loss due to the medical bills required to be paid for those injections. The court also reiterated the Plaintiff alleged emotional damages due to the fear that he might contract rabies.

Judge Williamson noted that the Plaintiff was not arguing that ‘but for the Defendants’ failure to follow the act he would not have been bitten,’ but rather, the Plaintiff was arguing that 'but for the Act not be followed by the Defendants, the Plaintiff would not have had to receive six (6) injections to prevent a possible rabies exposure, sustain a monetary loss associated with those injections, and would not have sustained emotional distress from having to worry about contracting rabies.'

As such, the court denied Defendants’ Preliminary Objections.

Notably, the court also found that the facts alleged were sufficient to support the Plaintiff’s claims for punitive damages. The court found facts in the Complaint that supported claims of an outrageous act and/or recklessness.

In particular, the court noted that the Plaintiff alleged that the incident occurred due to the Defendants’ failure to restrain their pit bull or to close him in another room in order to guarantee the safety of the Plaintiff. The court also noted that the Defendants had failed throughout the dog’s entire life to get it vaccinated for rabies. Judge Williamson additionally noted that the record revealed that the Defendants had direct knowledge that the dog was not vaccinated as they had secured the dog as a puppy and was informed at that time that the dog needed to be vaccinated but the Defendants failed to do so.

The court found that the nature of these alleged acts or omissions could be construed as a reckless disregard for the safety of others and could be considered outrageous in the context of a claim for punitive damages.

As such, the Defendants’ demurrer asserted against the punitive damages claim was overruled.

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

I send thanks to Attorney Thomas J. Newell of Newell Law for bringing this case to my attention.


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