In the case of Walsh v. Toth, No. 22-CV-96 (C. P. Lacka. Co. Oct. 6, 2023 Nealon, J.), the court addressed a Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment in a dog bite case.
After reviewing the case before him, Judge Nealon granted the Plaintiff’s Motion for Partial Summary Judgment against the dog owner to the extent that the Defendant, Justin Toth, was collaterally estopped from presenting evidence challenging the adjudicative findings from a previous District Magistrate hearing and/or Summary Appeal Hearing that his unconfined and unrestrained dog entered the Plaintiff’s premises and knocked her down the basement stairs.
The court ruled that, with respect to this particular Defendant, the jury would only be deciding the issue of damages recoverable by the Plaintiff for her injuries from the incident.
In so ruling, the court addressed whether the findings in companion criminal case collaterally estopped the Defendant dog owner from challenging liability in the civil case.
According to the Opinion, the dog’s owner was found guilty of violating §305(a) of the Dog Law, 3 P.S. §459-305(a), by a magisterial district judge. The dog owner appealed that summary offense conviction to the Court of Common Pleas for a de novo trial.
Based upon the specific defenses raised by the owner during that trial, another judge of the court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County held that the owner’s unconfined and unsecured dog entered the Plaintiff’s home and knocked her down the steps, and that the dog owner was, therefore, found to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of violating the above-referenced section of the dog law.
In this companion civil action against the dog’s owner, the Plaintiff filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment seeking a determination that the dog’s owner was collaterally estopped from presenting evidence contrary to the Common Pleas judge’s findings. The Plaintiff also sought a ruling that the dog owner should be considered to be negligent per se based upon his conviction for a violation of the dog law.
|Judge Terrence R. Nealon
According to Judge Nealon’s review of Pennsylvania law, a summary offense conviction collaterally estops a defendant from denying his adjudicated acts in a later civil suit if the defendant appeals his conviction by a magisterial district judge, participates in a de novo trial hearing before a Common Pleas judge, is afforded a full and fair opportunity to litigate his issues, and is found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
As such, based upon these circumstances in this case, the court found that the dog owner in this case was estopped from denying that his unrestrained dog entered the Plaintiff’s home and knocked down a staircase or that he was guilty of violating the dog law.
Anyone wishing to review a copy of this decision may click this LINK.