Preventing Dog Bites is an Owner’s Responsibility

With regard to dog bite law, New York is a “mixed” state. This means it combines the one-bite rule with strict liability rules.

Owners of dogs not previously considered “dangerous” are strictly liable only for the medical or veterinary costs of the victim. For other types of damages, the state requires the victim to prove the dog had dangerous tendencies about which the owner was aware.

Strict liability for ‘dangerous’ dogs

The owner or “lawful custodian” of a dangerous dog is considered strictly liable for any medical costs resulting from an injury the animal causes to a person, pet, farm animal or domestic animal. The owner is any person who keeps the dog or is in charge of watching it—and not necessarily the dog’s true owner.

A dog is considered dangerous if it attacks and injures a person, pet or farm animal without justification, or if it “behaves in a manner which a reasonable person would believe poses a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death” to a person, pet or farm animal.

Police dogs are usually exempted from these rules. A victim’s conduct could also exempt all dogs, especially if the victim was provoking the animal.

Owners of dangerous dogs may be required to pay fines if their negligence results in bites to a person or service animal. The amount of the fine depends on the severity of the injury, whether the bite was to a person or animal and whether the dog had previously been deemed dangerous.

One bite laws

For damages other than medical costs, the state of New York uses “one bite” rules. The idea behind these rules is simple—if there was no existing reason to believe the dog was dangerous and the dog had no history of biting, the dog gets one bite before it is considered dangerous. Strict liability applies after that point.

Criminal consequences

If the owner of a dog willfully or negligently permits the animal to bite a person, the dog was already deemed dangerous and the resulting injury was serious, the dog owner could be convicted of a misdemeanor. This is punishable by a $1.000 fine and 90 days in jail. A “serious injury” for these purposes is defined as one that causes death, presents the risk of death or causes severe disfigurement or impairment.

By law, dog owners must take reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of other people in the animal’s vicinity, including keeping the dog in a fenced-in yard or closed room, or keeping the dog restrained with a tether or leash while in public places. For more information on dog owner liability in New York, consult an experienced personal injury attorney at Robinson & Yablon, P.C.