Dog Bite Regulations in New York

New York is known as a “mixed” state regarding dog bite laws and regulations. Translation: State law “mixes” a so-called one-bite rule with liability determination. The regulations put liability on the owner of an adjudicated “dangerous dog” only liable for medical and/or veterinary expense reimbursement.

The “owner” also includes the “lawful custodian” of a known “dangerous dog.” A “dangerous dog” is one that “without justification” attacks and injures a person, companion animal, domestic animal, or farm animal. The New York statutes states that the dog “behaves in a manner which a reasonable person would believe a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death” to a human, domestic or companion or farm animal.

Along with liability for medical expenses, the owner may be liable for criminal penalties or fines for negligence. If convicted, the owner may be convicted of a misdemeanor, subject to a $1,000 fine and/or 90 days in jail. Should the “dangerous dog” owner be negligent, the person may be subject to a fine only, the amount of which depends on the seriousness of the injury to the person or animal.

The “One Bite” State Issue

The New York law imposes strict liability on the owner regarding injuries inflicted by his/her dog as long as the victim can verify that the dog is vicious. The owner is liable if he/she knew or should have known the dog was unstable and potentially vicious.

New York’s courts have ruled that “the owner of a domestic animal who either knows or should have known of that animal’s vicious propensities will be held liable for the harm the animal causes as a result of those propensities.”

“One strike and you’re out” expresses the New York statute rather simply, although a prior dog bite only is one type of evidence a jury may consider in the event the incident in question or the history of the animal’s behavior results in a criminal or civil trial.

What Is Evidence of an Animal’s “Vicious Propensity”?

Evidence of a vicious propensity may be “established by proof of prior acts of a similar kind of which the owner had notice.” However, dog owners (defendants) who post “Beware of Dog” signs are, by themselves, not sufficient to establish that dog owners knew of a dog’s “vicious propensities.” Owners can establish, in various ways, proof that his dog has never bitten anyone before and had never even bared his teeth or growled at any human or another animal. Owners (defendants) who can verify this can become eligible for a summary judgment in his/her favor.

New York juries are entitled to determine if the dog has “vicious propensities,” often using evidence from the type and results of an attack. These juries also have the right to examine evidence of this type of behavior toward prior victims and can confirm the dog’s aggressive propensities.

Negligence Determination in New York

This state has a somewhat odd approach applicable to negligence. Should a person violate a state law, the action is considered negligence per se, even if additional proof of negligence does not exist. City or county law violations constitute negligence also. If results of a dog attack include serious injury to a person or animal, juries can find owners guilty of negligence just because they violated a state law, regardless of other extenuating circumstances.

New York Landlords’ Liability Has Restrictions

Should plaintiffs want to sue their landlords to be liable for a dog bite injury, the burden of proof rests with the victim who must prove that the landlord knew the following at the time of initial leasing the property.

·       The presence of the dog in the property, and

·       Landlord must be aware of the dog’s “vicious propensity” trends.

Summary

The bottom line: Don’t let your dog bite a person, domestic, companion, or farm animal. Also do not violate a New York state law even if your dog was “baited” into a defensive retaliatory act, since you may incur a fine or be found guilty of negligence per se.

Be aware that out-of-pocket expenses, lost wages, and punitive damages (from you) are recoverable in New York courts. Many legal experts and animal lovers believe New York should move into the 20th century as the state’s laws mirror those regulations originally adopted in the 17th century in British courts.

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