How is liability for dog bites determined in New York?

In New York, liability for dog bites depends on the victim’s conduct, the circumstances of the attack and the owner’s awareness that the dog was dangerous.

Many dogs are friendly, devoted and harmless companions. Sadly, though, some people suffer serious injuries when a dog bites. According to the New York State Department of Health, approximately 6,600 people under age 20 seek medical attention in for dog bites annually. The number of bites causing injuries or other complications rises when factoring in adult dog attack victims.

After a dog attacks, victims may suffer various forms of physical and emotional harm. These include muscle and nerve damage, scarring and disfigurement, infections and lingering emotional distress. This makes the issue of liability a significant concern when dog owners fail to prevent their pets from harming others. It's important for victims to understand when owners may be liable for dog bite injuries under New York law.

What are the state's liability laws?

Article 7 of the Agriculture & Markets Law states that dog owners are generally considered liable for any medical costs that a dangerous dog causes when it attacks. Under this law, people who are keeping or harboring the dog are treated as owners. Victims of dog bite injuries may also be able to recover damages to address non-medical costs. However, they must show that the owner knew, or should have known, that the dog had dangerous tendencies.

When is a dog considered dangerous?

A dog is considered dangerous if it bites or otherwise attacks a person, resulting in injury or death, without provocation. A dog may also be classified as dangerous if it has attacked livestock, service animals and other domestic animals in the same manner. Sometimes, a dog may won't be considered dangerous even if it has attacked someone:

• The victim had abused or otherwise provoked the dog, either before or at the time of the attack.

• The dog attacked in order to defend itself, its offspring or its owner.

• The victim was trespassing or committing a crime at the time of the attack.

Similarly, if a police dog bites a person while assisting law enforcement officers in performing their duties, it is not considered a dangerous dog.

When should owners know a dog is dangerous?

According to precedents established in past cases, an owner should reasonably know that a dog may endanger others if it has demonstrated "vicious propensities." Prior bites or attacks may clearly indicate these propensities. Other behaviors, such as growling and attempts at biting, may also serve as signs that the dog may endanger others. Certain actions on the part of owners, such as verbal warnings, might be taken as indications that the owner knew about the dog's tendencies.

How do victims seek recourse?

People who have suffered dog bite injuries may seek compensation by filing personal injury lawsuits. However, showing that an attack was unprovoked and that an owner should have been prevented it can be complicated. Consequently, victims may want to consider discussing the attack and the claim process with an attorney.