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Dog Bites and Liability: Not Always Man’s Best Friend

May 12, 2015

Every year as the weather warms, it is not uncommon to spend far more time outdoors.  This is especially true of people with pets.  Pet owners can be found walking their dogs around town, playing with their dogs in the parks, taking their dogs to the beach, and even bringing their pets to eat at restaurants with outdoor seating areas.  With this increased socialization also comes an increased risk.

Dogs are animals.  It can be difficult to predict how they will react in certain situations.  If you are a dog owner, here are 5 ways you can dramatically reduce your risk of dog bites in summer:

  1. Do not allow children or others to approach your dog while he or she is eating, playing, or interacting with another dog.
  2. Learn how to read your dog’s signs.  Growling is not the only sign your uncomfortable or upset.  If your dog’s ears are pinned-back, tail is tucked under or your dog is heavily panting, it could be a sign something is wrong.
  3. Give your dog a lot of opportunities to socialize with other dogs and burn off energy.  Exercise, scheduled playtimes, and time where your dog can interact with other dogs in a safe environment can all reduce the risks of dog bites.
  4. Keep your dog well hydrated.  When possible, keep your dog inside in a cool space during the hottest times of the day.  While a hot sidewalk may not seem hot to you, it could burn the pads of your dog’s feet.  Putting your dog in a stressful or painful situation could invoke aggressive behavior.
  5. Invest in professional behavior training for your dog.  If your dog is properly trained, listens to commands, and knows how to act in certain situations, he or she will be less likely to act aggressively regardless of the situation.

If your dog bites another person, can you be held liable?

Liability Statute

New York does not have a Dog Bite Statute that outlines when an owner will be subject to statutory liability, except in cases involving dangerous dogs. However, New York does have a statute for civil penalties. Under that statute, in addition to common law liability, a dog owner who negligently permits his or her dog to bite someone is subject to a civil penalty of up to $400. In cases where the dog causes a serious injury, the owner will be subject to a civil penalty up to $800.

Common Law Liability

In cases where a dog owner knows or should have known, of the dog’s vicious propensities, the owner will be subject to strict liability for injuries inflicted by the dog. Where the owner does not know of the dog’s vicious propensities, the plaintiff must prove that the owner was negligent and that the owner’s negligence caused the attack. In cases where a person was injured by a dangerous dog, the victim can recover under the common law, as well as the Dangerous Dog Statute.

Dangerous Dog Statute

The Meaning of a “Dangerous Dog”

A dangerous dog is:

  • a dog that, without justification, attacks a person, a companion animal, a farm animal, or a domestic animal and causes physical injury or death. “Physical injury” means impairment of physical condition or substantial pain.
  • a dog that behaves in a manner which a reasonable person would believe poses a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death to one or more persons, companion animals, farm animals, or domestic animals. “Serious physical injury” means physical injury which creates a substantial risk of death, or which causes death or serious or protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health, or protracted loss or impairment of the function of a bodily organ.
  • a dog that, without justification, attacks a service dog, guide dog, or hearing dog and causes physical injury or death.

Any person who witnesses a dog attack or a threatened dog attack upon a person, companion animal, farm animal, or domestic animal may make a complaint to a dog control officer or a police officer of the appropriate municipality. The dog control officer or police officer must then make a complaint under oath to a municipal judge, who will determine if there is probable cause to believe the dog is a dangerous dog. The person bringing the complaint must prove by clear and convincing evidence that the dog is dangerous. If the judge is satisfied that the dog is dangerous, the judge must order neutering or spaying of the dog, microchipping of the dog, and one or more of the following, as deemed appropriate under the circumstances and as deemed necessary to protect the public:

  • Consultation of the dog by a certified applied behaviorist, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, or another recognized expert in the field and completion of training or other treatment deemed appropriate by the expert. The dog owner will be responsible for all costs associated with consultations and training.
  • Secure, humane confinement of the dog for a period of time and in a manner deemed appropriate by the judge, but in all instances, the confinement must prevent the escape of the dog, protect the public from unauthorized contact with the dog, and protect the dog from the elements.
  • Restraint of the dog on a leash by an adult 21 years of age or older whenever the dog is on public property.
  • Muzzling the dog whenever it is on public property in a manner that will prevent it from biting any person or animal.
  • Maintenance of a liability insurance policy in an amount to be determined by the judge, but not in excess of $100,000 for personal injury or death resulting from an attack by the dangerous dog.
  • Euthanasia or permanent confinement of the dog if the judge finds that the dog, without justification, attacked a person and caused serious physical injury or death; or that the dog had a known vicious propensity as evidenced by a previous unjustified attack on a person that caused serious physical injury or death; or that the dog, without justification caused serious physical injury or death to a companion animal, a farm animal, or a domestic animal, and has, in the past two years, caused unjustified physical injury or death to a companion or farm animal.

Dangerous Dog Owners’ Liability

  • A dog owner who negligently permits a dog to bite a person causing serious physical injury is subject to a civil penalty not to exceed $1,500.
  • A dog owner who negligently permits a dog that was previously determined to be dangerous, to bite a person causing serious physical injury is subject to a fine of $3,000, a term of imprisonment up to 90 days, or both.
  • If any dog, which was determined to be a dangerous dog, without justification, kills a person who is peaceably conducting himself in any place where he is lawfully entitled to be, regardless of whether such dog escapes without fault of the owner, the owner will be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a penalty of up to one year in prison.
  • The owner of a dangerous dog is strictly liable for medical cost associated with the injury sustained.

For more information, call us at 716-636-7600.