Extent Of Liability for Dog Bites In New York

Even though most dogs are well trained and harmless, it can be upsetting to know that every year, in the United States, at least four and a half million people become the victims of dog bites. In addition, a very large percentage of them end up requiring reconstructive surgery and expensive hospitalization.

The most vulnerable of these victims are children, whose injuries can be devastating to their families, both emotionally and financially. It is because of this, that New York has established a series of laws that establish the extent of dog owners’ liability in specific scenarios.

Understanding Dog Bite Laws In New York

The first thing that must be noted is that New York dog bite laws are complex due to their singular nature and that they have been provided for at a state, county, and city level. This means that dog bite laws can vary from one area to another. Therefore, the victim must be aware of the specific legal provisions in the area in which the attack took place. Additionally, there is a statute of limitations of three years in which the victim must seek compensation. This means that once that period of time has expired, nothing else can be done.

Another important point to note is that New York’s dog bite statute is a combination of the one-bite rule (meaning the dog’s owner does not get a free pass for the first bite) and a limited level of strict liability. What this means is that owners are liable for all the damage and/or injuries caused by their dog, including any injuries caused by the animal regardless of circumstance, but not for negligence, and only in the case in which the dog has been declared dangerous prior to the attack.

Dogs are not only declared dangerous because of bites but, because they are known to harass or chase people and this has been reported to the animal control authorities. Even so, and while the law is clear on what is considered to be a dangerous dog, it is up to the victim to prove this, as well as prove that the owner knew about it.

New York Does Not Offer A Free Pass

Many people tend to believe that dog owners will get a free pass when a dog bites somebody for the first time, especially when the dog in question has never shown any aggressive behavior before, but this is not true. The reality is that it depends on the specific case and whether the dog has ever shown any vicious behavior. Even so, it is rare and only happens on occasion, which is why it is best to consider that New York does not offer a “one free bite” exception, regardless of the dog’s prior behavior.

In this same manner, New York has not established any statewide leash laws. Leash laws vary by municipality and are normally determined locally, which reinforces the fact that, when bitten by a dog, it’s best to find an attorney who is well versed in the laws of the area in which the attack took place.

Determination Of Vicious Propensities

If you or a loved one have been attacked by a dog, under current laws, you must prove the liability of the owner by showing he or she knew the dog was prone to be vicious. The standard by which this is determined was established by New York’s Supreme Court’s Appellate Division in the case of Collier v. Zambito, in which the state sought to unify the law all throughout the state by holding that the “vicious propensity” of a dog is the “propensity to do any act that might endanger the safety of the persons and property of others in a given situation.”

These “vicious propensities” can be proved if a dog “ha[s] actually bitten someone . . . [or] growl[s], snap[s] or bare[s] its teeth” at individuals. In sum, the court determined the actions needed if the dog “reflects a proclivity to act in a way that puts others at risk of harm.”

Collier v. Zambito also determined behavior that does not constitute “vicious propensity” includes those of an accidental nature, including biting due to teething, pulling on ropes or grabbing treats from a person’s hand, be it the owner or not. Normal canine behavior, such as chasing squirrels or nipping at other dogs during play are also not proof of “vicious propensity”. Additionally, even if the dog has been restrained, be it by a chain, cage, or room, due to barking, or to prevent it from running off, it does not constitute proof of vicious behavior.

In Bard v. Jahnk, the Court of Appeals determined that the breed of a dog is not relevant to the establishment of vicious propensities due to that fact alone in the case of domesticated animals, something which came as a pleasant surprise to many.


Author Bio:
Tom Moverman established the Lipsig Bronx Firm with Harry Lipsig and his partners in 1989; The firm’s focus is in personal injury, construction accidents, car accidents, products liability, and medical malpractice.

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