In the recent case of Wagner v. Teneyck, a Doberman got loose from its owner’s property and attacked a child in Lycoming County, Pennsylvania, causing severe and permanent injuries. In most lawsuits based on negligence, the victim has to prove that the defendant failed to act with “reasonable care” under the circumstances. However, under the Pennsylvania Dog Law, if an owner does not keep his “dangerous” dog muzzled or confined, a dog owner may be liable regardless of whether he exercised reasonable care in confining the dog. A victim simply needs to show that the dog had a propensity to attack without provocation.
Prior to Pennsylvania’s Dog Law, a dog was entitled to “one free bite” on the rationale that an owner would have no reason to know of his dog’s dangerous tendencies until the first incident. Under Pennsylvania’s Dog Law, a dog’s dangerous propensities may be proven by a single incident, including the very attack giving rise to the injuries. In this case, the court found that the single incident was sufficient to prove that the Doberman was dangerous, and because the dog was not muzzled or confined in the house, the owner could be liable for the child’s injuries.
This shift away from the “one free bite” rule has made it easier for victims of dog attacks to recover damages.