Though many animals have become a part of our families, there are some instances where an animal may injure a person. In the event of injury due to an animal attack or an animal’s behavior, New York State law controls determining liability for dog bite claims or other injuries caused by domestic animals.
Proving Owner Liability in Animal Attack Cases
In New York State, dog bite law and the dog owner’s liability can get a bit confusing. The statute combines the one-bite rule with a regulated amount of strict liability. For instance, if the dog was previously determined as “dangerous,” the owner would be strictly responsible for only the victim’s medical and veterinary costs. For other damages, New York State requires the victim to prove the animal was “dangerous” with the tendency to bite people and the owner knew about this dog behavior. The latter type of statue is reflected in other domestic animal attack cases, as well, including, cat bites or a kicking horse. Thus, the animal will have to be proven as dangerous for the owner to have liability in the case.
Does the Type of Animal Affect Your Case?
Attacks or injuries resulting from dogs, cats, cows, horses, or other domestic animals may fall under different sets of rules when it comes to liability. There is also a difference when it comes to domestic animals and an attack by a wild animal. Those who own wild animals are often subject to very strict liability claims since wild animals are considered characteristically dangerous; and, as such, even though the owner may do everything in his or her power to protect others from their animal, they can still be held liable.
Common Injuries Caused by Dogs And Other Animal Attacks
There are a few common injuries and illnesses that occur in animal bite or attack cases to the victim. These may include:
- Muscle tears
- Broken bones
- Crush injuries
Injuries depend on the type of animal attack and the size of the victim. If the domestic animal is larger than the victim, it is more likely to break bones or cause crush injuries. If the domestic animal bites a person, it may cause punctures and infections.
Is New York’s Current Domestic Animal Liability Law Fair?
In a recent New York case, Scavetta v. Wechsler, 149 A.D.3d 202 (2017), a New York Appellate Court was asked to decide whether a negligence claim may be asserted against a defendant who attached a dog’s leash to an unsecured bicycle rack, where, thereafter, the dog became frightened and began to run through public roads, dragging the metal rack through the streets and into the plaintiff, causing serious injury. The Court held that the dog owner was not negligent for failing to properly secure the dog since, under New York’s recognized law, an owner’s liability is determined solely by application of the rule of “strict liability” for harm caused by a domestic animal whose owner knows or should have known of the animal’s vicious propensities. As such, the dog owner in Scavetta v. Wechsler was not found responsible for their dog causing an injury to a person, despite their apparent negligence in not properly securing their dog.
Despite the First Department Appellate Court’s decision, they stated, “We find this to be most unsatisfactory as a matter of public policy and would recognize a cause of action for negligence in appropriate circumstances.” They rightfully pointed out that negligence liability should be in keeping with the principles of fundamental fairness, responsibility for one’s actions, and societal expectations; and, that it is not at all unreasonable to expect a dog owner to restrain their dog in public, unless unleashing the dog was specifically permitted at certain times and locations, as evidenced by local leash laws. Notwithstanding, the Appellate Court stated it was bound by the New York Court of Appeals (the state’s highest court), which has decided, in essence, that local leash laws have no bearing on whether negligence liability should attach to a dog owner despite the fact that this undermines public policy of local municipalities that have enacted leash laws. It would seem only fair that letting a dog run “at large” on public roads and sidewalks would, and should, create a presumption of negligence if that dog bites someone; however, this recognition is not given by New York Courts.
Further, under current New York rules, as articulated by the Court of Appeals, it would seem as if pet owners are permitted to act in any number of objectively unreasonable ways when supervising their non-vicious pets, because New York law does not place upon them a duty to observe any standard of reasonable care.
It is this writer’s opinion that New York’s law regarding animal negligence is archaic and contrary to good sense and fairness; and that New York State should join the overwhelming majority of states that follow the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 518, which states: “Except for animal trespass, one who possesses or harbors a domestic animal that he does not know or have reason to know to be abnormally dangerous, is subject to liability for harm done by the animal if, but only if … he is negligent in failing to prevent the harm.”
Hopefully, all of the negative comments that arose after the Scavetta v. Wechsler case will spark incentive for legislative reform of the current law and that our New York State legislature will write a law that is fair and just and will ensure that animal owners act reasonably with their domestic pets, to prevent them from injuring innocent parties.
If you’ve been injured in an animal attack, contact Brindisi, Murad, Brindisi and Pearlman to discuss your rights. Our experienced personal injury lawyers know the injury was not your fault and are fully equipped with the knowledge and resources to represent you in an animal bite lawsuit. Contact our office for free legal advice today.
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Tags: Dog Bite Lawsuit