Every state has slightly different dog bite liability laws. Most states have enacted a statute about dog bite liability that overrides the common law regulations about dog attacks. New York is unique because it mixes the old, traditional common law rule with a new statutory rule.
Common Law: The “One Free Bite” Rule
Common law is a general term used to describe laws that came over from England with our ancestors when the American court system was first established. Under common law, a dog owner was only liable for a dog attack when the owner was aware that the dog was violent or vicious.
Usually, the only way that the owner would know that the dog is dangerous is if the dog had already attacked someone else. This rule gave the dog one free bite before the owner knew it was violent. The rule is usually referred to as the One Free Bite Rule, One Bite Rule or the First Bite Rule. It also applies to many other domestic animals.
New York Dog Bite Law
The state of New York mixes the one bite rule with strict liability. Strict liability means that it does not matter who is at fault; after a bite, the dog owner is liable.
In New York, the law will only use strict liability if the dog has been classified as “dangerous.” If the dog is classified as dangerous, then the dog owner must automatically pay for medical and vet costs.
The law says that a “dangerous” dog is one that has already attacked or injured a person, farm animal, companion animal or other domestic animal. It could also simply behave in a way that most people would think was dangerous.Simply being chained to a building and barking could be enough to label the dog as “dangerous” for the New York dog bite law.
This classification is essentially the one bite rule in action, but it is much broader than the traditional rule. A jury will determine whether the dog had a dangerous propensity for purposes of declaring whether the dog was dangerous.