If you’re asking this question, you probably have a good reason: You or someone close to you has been bitten, or you’re worried about a dog in your neighborhood. Or maybe your dog has bitten someone and you need to know what you could be liable for (as a dog owner, you should already know this, but it’s better late than never). Let’s get to some answers.
Legal Approaches: Strict Liability vs. the ‘One-Bite Rule’
Dog bites are usually handled in one of two ways, depending on a state’s laws: Either a state enforces strict liability or it follows what’s known as the “one-bite rule.”
Strict liability demands that a dog owner is responsible for all harm caused by the dog, regardless of whether the owner had any reason to think the dog was dangerous.
The “one-bite rule,” on the other hand, can let an owner off the hook the first time a dog causes harm. Under this approach, an owner is not held responsible if he or she had no knowledge up to that point that the dog was dangerous.
These laws don’t actually give a dog and its owner “one free bite,” but they require that some action by the animal—such as threatening others, fierce barking, jumping on people, or fighting with other dogs—would lead a reasonable person to suspect that the dog might be dangerous.
New York Is a ‘Mixed’ State
Some states mix the two approaches, having both strict liability and allowances for dogs not previously known to be dangerous. New York is one of those states.
If a dog has already been determined to be dangerous (or should have been), then the owner can be held strictly liable for any harm caused by that animal. That applies to people and pets, farm animals and livestock, and service animals.
But if a dog hasn’t previously been deemed “dangerous,” its owner can still be held responsible if the victim can prove that the owner was negligent. If, for instance, an owner didn’t leash his dog properly or keep it in a secure enclosure, and that dog ran off and bit someone, the bite victim might be able to recover damages from the dog’s owner if he can show that the owner’s actions were careless and led to the injury or other damage.
Exceptions to the Rules
New York law isn’t entirely unforgiving. (The statute is more than eight pages long—we’ve done the hard part and summarized the important details.)
Police dogs doing their job are exempt from this law. If a dog is defending a person against a crime (an assault or robbery, for example), the dog won’t be considered dangerous, and the owner won’t be held liable. If a dog is protecting itself or its offspring, any harm it causes in response might be considered justified.
Also, if a dog was subjected to pain and suffering or the dog or a person or animal known to it was threatened or harmed, the law may excuse any injury that results.
Penalties Can Add Up
Dog owners found guilty of causing harm through negligence can face misdemeanor criminal penalties up to a maximum of a $3,000 fine and ninety days in jail. But they can also be forced to pay for any medical costs and physical damages caused by their animal, which can add up to a lot more.
Non-economic damages can also be sought by dog bite victims (for pain and suffering) when a dog qualifies as dangerous or negligence is proven.
New York Dog Bite Lawyer
If you’ve been harmed by a known dangerous dog or by any dog through the negligence of its owner, you have the right to recover financial damages from that animal’s owner to cover all your expenses—and possibly additional pain and suffering.
Talk to Greenstein & Milbauer, LLP to understand your options. For years, the attorneys at our firm have helped clients reach full and fair settlements in dog bite injury cases. Call us today at 1-800-VICTIM2 (842-8462) or fill out the contact form at the bottom of the page to schedule a free consultation.