Is a Dog Owner Who Violates a New York Leash Law Liable For Injuries Suffered in a New York Dog-on-Bicyclist or Dog-on-Pedestrian Attack?

Thumbnail image for vicious dog.jpgI hate dogs. At least when I am on a bike or out running. I have a dog (“Pisca”), but she is not like those dogs. She does not run out after bicyclists and runners. I keep her inside unless I am walking her, and then she is leashed.

Maybe my view of the world is skewed because I handle a lot Syracuse and Central New York bicycle accident cases, where I see close up how lives, damn good ones, are destroyed by unrestrained dogs.

But I am not the only one who thinks dogs should be restrained. After all, many New York State local lawmakers agree with me. They pass “leash laws”. Many dog owners apparently don’t agree with me and the lawmakers, though, because they let their dogs roam free, leash laws be damned!

So here is my blog query for the day: What happens in a New York dog-on-biker attack, or a New York dog-on-runner attack, where a scofflaw dog owner lets his dog loose in violation of a local New York leash law? Can you sue the law-breaking dog owner to compensate you for the broken bones you suffered in your crash to the pavement from your bike, or to replace your broken bike, or to compensate you for the bite scars on your butt?

Amazingly, no, not usually! Not in New York anyway. Unlike many States, in New York State a dog owner is not liable for injuries caused by unrestrained dogs, even when the owner violated a local leash law, UNLESS the dog owner knew or should have known that the dog had prior vicious propensities, or had a tendency to run out after bicycles, cars or pedestrians. And if you don’t believe me, here’s a recent case from the highest Court in New York State that says so.

Wow. Sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Shouldn’t the scofflaw dog owner be liable for breaking the leash law? Yes! And they are held liable in many States. But New York’s dog law has – unlike New York’s dogs — no teeth.

Now compare New York’s dog friendly law to Massachusetts’ bicycle and pedestrian friendly law. Those lucky Massachusetts runners and bikers are protected by a statute, Massachusetts General Laws c. 140 s. 155, which makes a dog owner strictly liable for all bites and other attacks, including against bicyclists, as long as the victim was not trespassing, teasing or tormenting the dog. Under Massachusetts law, dog owners are not only required to restrain and control their dogs, they may be held liable for injuries resulting from their failure to do so, even if the dog had never attacked runners or other pedestrians, or bothered or chased down bicyclists before. You let your dog loose at your own risk, not the risk of others.

Apparently, New York prefers dogs to people. Or perhaps the dog owner lobby is just stronger than the bicyclist lobby. Whatever the reason, New York needs a leash law with real teeth, because , hey, that’s what dogs have (believe me — I’ve got a few scars to prove it!).

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