My own very neighbor recently was bit by a dog, so I’m writing about the most recent developments in Dog Bite injury Law.

In NYS, a dog bite lawsuit is tougher than most states because to win your case you must prove that the dog had a prior bite/attack or otherwise displayed “vicious propensities” and that the owner was aware.

This is a problem for many first-time dog bite offenders, but it is not the end of the road. The problem with New York’s law is that it doesn’t allow dog bite victims to sue the owner of the dog for the owner’s negligence or carelessness in the matter. In many circumstances, it is actually the owner of the dog who is at fault for creating a situation wherein their dog lashes out.

For example, in Doerr v. Goldsmitha dog owner signaled for his nice, obedient doggy to come to him.  Bad idea.  The dog was on the opposite side of a very busy street.  The tail-wagging, happy-go-lucky pooch then bolted across the busy street to his loving owner, causing an innocent bicyclist to be thrown from his bike.

Could the cyclist sue the dog owner for his negligence?  No, New York’s highest Court said, because the rule in New York is you can’t sue a dog owner unless the dog has demonstrated “vicious propensities”, which this saint-of-a-dog surely had not.

In the recent case of Scavetta v. Wechler, one of New York’s four intermediate appellate courts – the First Department – ruled that a dog owner who tied his big, strong dog to a small, light-weight, unsecured rack and then walked away, could NOT be held liable when the dog dragged the rack around in a panic and injured a good Samaritan trying to help. The Court, while very critical of the rule as established by New York’s highest Court, said it was constrained by the (bad) rule.

Weirdly, this silly rule does not apply to farm animals.  For example, in Hastings v. Sauve, the Court held that an owner of a cow – or other farm animal — can be liable for negligently allowing the cow to roam onto a road and cause an accident. Obviously, the cow is not vicious, but still the owner can be held liable.

So why not the same rule for dogs? Why can’t a dog owner be held liable for allowing his/her dog – even a friendly non-vicious one — to run loose and cause a car or bike accident or some other accident?

Anyway, if you or a loved one is injured in New York State by an animal, call Chris Brown at (607) 988-3131 to discuss your case.

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