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Every Dog Gets One Free Bite

In a landmark decision covering two cases, Doerr v. Goldsmith, and Dobinski v. Lockhart, New York’s highest court reaffirmed the vitality of its prior decision in Bard v. Jahnke.  Bard established that in New York a domestic animal owner cannot be held liable on a theory of negligence for injuries caused to someone by a domestic animal, even a breeding bull allowed to wander freely in an area frequented by a non-farm worker who was given no warning of the bull’s presence and who was gored by the bull.  An animal owner can only be held liable on a theory of strict liability.  New York is in a tiny minority of states that declines to hold animal owners liable for negligence associated with the control of domestic animals. Only where the pet owner knew or should have known of the animal’s aggressive or vicious propensities prior to the incident in question can the owner be responsible for injuries caused by an animal.  This is commonly referred to as the “one bite rule”, meaning that an owner will not be liable the first time the dog bites someone, but will be the second time.  In actuality, an owner may be liable for an attack even if the dog never bit anyone before but showed aggressive behavior.  But an owner will not be liable on a theory of negligence for injuries caused by a dog who runs into the roadway into the path of a bicyclist, regardless of whether the dog is loose in contravention of a leashing ordinance, or by an unrestrained Rottweiler that chases a mail carrier causing her to leap through an open window of her mail truck, or by a dog brought into a toy store who bites a small child in the face.  In other words, no matter how predictable the incident, or how flagrant the animal owner’s neglect, there can be no liability in New York unless the owner had notice of the likelihood of the incident occurring based on a prior similar incident.  The only exception to this general rule is if the animal in question is a farm animal that has been allowed to wander off the farm into a public area.  An animal owner may be liable in that event if the owner had notice of the possibility of the animal’s escape, such as, for instance, if the owner knew that the animal was not properly fenced in.

The law applicable to injuries caused by domestic animals is very restrictive in New York.  If you or someone close to you is injured by a domestic animal, and are thinking about bringing a law suit, make sure to consult with attorneys knowledgeable about this area of the law, such as the attorneys at Barasch McGarry Salzman & Penson.

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