Failure to Restrain Vicious Dog Could Warrant Punitive Damages
Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A recent ruling from the Court of Common Pleas of Lycoming County lends support to the proposition that a Defendant’s failure to restrain a dog with known vicious propensities is sufficient to support a claim for punitive damages.

In the case of Harrison v. Haueisen, No. 14-02,685 (CCP Lycoming County, April 2, 2015), Plaintiffs alleged that a dog biting incident involving Defendants’ dog had been reported to the police about one week prior to Plaintiffs’ injuries. It was further alleged that neighbors complained to Defendants’ about the vicious propensities of their dog and their failure to restrain it. Defendants admitted to police that their dog had previously bitten a child yet they failed to restrain the animal.

Defendants filed Preliminary Objections to Plaintiffs’ Complaint alleging, in part, that the above-stated facts were not sufficient to support Plaintiffs’ claim for punitive damages; the Court disagreed. In a brief opinion, the Court stated that in order to prevail on a claim for punitive damages, plaintiff must establish:

  1. The defendant “had a subjective appreciation of the risk of harm to which the plaintiff was exposed;” and,

  2. The defendant “acted, or failed to act, as the case may be, in conscious disregard of that risk.” Hutchinson v. Luddy, 870 A.2d 766, 771 (Pa. 2005).

The Court then determined that the facts set forth in Plaintiffs’ Complaint were sufficient to allow a jury to award punitive damages.

The Court’s ruling serves to reinforce the fact that punitive damages may be an available remedy in particularly egregious dog bite cases. In my experience, many attorneys are quick to dismiss the potential for punitive damages. However, if supported by the appropriate facts, I believe that they can serve to significantly increase the value of a case.


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