There’s Hope for New York Cyclists and Pedestrians Injured By Unleashed Dogs: Some Insurance Adjusters Don’t Understand New York Dog Law

My last Central New York injury law blog was about New York dog law and how it has no “teeth”. It doesn’t protect innocent bicyclists, pedestrians and runners from dog bites and dog attacks because it does not make dog owners pay for injuries their dogs inflict when they violated leash laws. I explained how in New York, unlike in other states, a dog owner is not liable for the injuries his dog causes to pedestrians, bikers, runners and others merely because he violated a leash law and allowed his dog to roam unrestrained. In New York this is not enough. You have to show that the dog owner knew or should have known of the dog’s vicious tendencies, or of its tendency to run out after pedestrians, runners or bicyclists. This is sometimes hard to prove, because the dog owner will invariably deny that his dog ever did this before.

But, as usual after I publish a blog, I had a “I should-have-said” moment. In this case, I should have added an anecdote about a case I had a few years ago where the dog owner’s insurance adjuster (with whom I was negotiating behalf of my client) did not know this rule. He, like many people, assumed that a dog owner would be liable for injuries caused by a dog when the dog owner disobeyed a leash law, thus allowing the dog the opportunity to attack a bicyclist, runner or pedestrian.

I settled the case with him and got my client a fair settlement, even though I knew I was able to do so only because the adjuster was ignorant about the law. Did I feel bad about that? Absolutely not; my client deserved the compensation, I did not deceive the insurance company about the law, rather, its adjuster was just too lazy to look it up, and the law in New York is so unjust that this “error” on the part of the insurance adjuster actually worked a justice.

Are there any lessons to be drawn from this story? There are three. First, sometimes justice can be done in unexpected ways. Second, don’t assume insurance adjusters know the law. Third, play your cards close to the vest and you may get lucky.

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