You are probably not going to like this, but in the eyes of the law, a pet is property. As such, it will be treated as property regardless of what legal action you pursue. In many cases, victims of a pet injury would have more success by seeking a remedy directly from the responsible party rather than through a premises liability action.
Pursuing Compensation through a Premises Liability Claim
With that said, the law can offer some satisfaction. As with all premises liability actions, negligence is the main factor that could lead to success. Below are two examples in which a pet suffers an injury on another person’s property. Hopefully, they will give you some idea of when negligence is a factor and when it is not.
Say you and your family are invited to a barbecue and you are encouraged to bring your pet. The property owners have left some rat poison out in the yard and your pet eats it and suffers severe injuries. Because the property owners invited you and your pet, you could argue that he or she should have made the premises safe for your animal.
On the other hand, say your dog leaves your yard and enters your neighbor’s property without an invitation. The animal finds a stash of rat poison on the premises, consumes it and becomes ill. Because the dog was essentially a trespasser in the yard, you likely have no grounds upon which to sue.
Pursuing Compensation for Your Pet Through a Trespass Claim
As noted above, you will likely have more success recovering compensation from the owner of a property where your pet was injured by filing a trespass to property/chattel claim. This is because pets are considered property in the eyes of the law — if your pet is injured by someone else, the law considers it damage to your property, even though it is really injury to a living being and an important member of your family.
A trespass to chattels/property claim alleges the intentional interference with another person’s lawful possession of personal property, such as a dog. A trespass to chattel/property claim will require you to prove:
- Intent to trespass: You need to show that the trespasser intended to do the act that interfered with your ownership of your dog; it is not necessary to show that the other party intended to harm your pet or intended harm to flow from his or her actions
- Lack of consent: You must also show that the other party interfered with your ownership of your pet without your consent — this is relatively straightforward if you’ve given the other party no permission to interact with your pet, but can be tricker in situations where the other party had some permission to interact with your pet, such as when a dog is being walked by a dog walker
- Interference: A party commits a trespass when he or she (1) dispossesses an owner of the property, (2) uses or interferes with property that is in the owner’s possession, or (3) damages the property
A valid trespass to property claim will usually arise when:
- The other party dispossesses the owner of his or her property
- The property is impaired in its condition, quality, or value
- The owner is deprived of the use of the property for a substantial time
- Bodily harm is caused to the, or other harm or injury is caused to a person or thing in which the owner has a legally protected interest
If your pet is injured on someone else’s property through the acts of the property’s owner or possessor, then you may be able to argue that your pet has been impaired in its condition, quality, or value, or that you have been dispossessed of your petor use of your pet for a substantial time while it recovers from its injuries.
In a trespass to property claim, the measure of damages is typically the actual damages suffered by the owner in the diminished value of the property resulting from the at-fault party’s actions. It can be difficult to determine the diminished value of an injured dog (unless your pet has some measurable value as a working animal, show animal, or breeding animal). However, it may also be possible to recover veterinarian and prescription medication costs incurred to treat your pet’s injuries.
Finally, if your pet’s injuries are so severe that your pet passes away or it becomes necessary to put your pet down, you might also be able to seek compensation under a related legal theory to trespass to property known as conversion. Conversion occurs when a person, without authorization or justification, interferes with the use and possession of someone else’s property to the extent that the owner is permanently deprived of use or possession.
If your dog has suffered an injury on private or public property, your best bet is to speak with a Pennsylvania premises liability attorney about your case. Doing so can help you determine what kind of legal action, if any, you might be able to pursue.
Contact a Pittsburgh Personal Injury Lawyer to Discuss Your Premises Liability Case in Pennsylvania
Did your dog sustain an injury on someone else’s property in Pennsylvania? Don’t let the medical bills pile up while you wait for the negligent party or their insurance company to do the right thing. Right now, you need an aggressive personal injury attorney on your side, fighting to get you the compensation you need, want, and deserve. The skilled attorneys at Goodrich & Geist, P.C. represent clients in Pittsburgh and Western PA counties. Call 412-766-1455 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation about your case. We have an office conveniently located at 3634 California Avenue, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15212.
The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.