Today I am blogging about a recent development in New York dog bite / attack injury law. By way of background, New York is one of only a few states where, to win your case, you have to prove the dog had a prior bite or attack or otherwise displayed “vicious propensities” and that the owner knew about these propensities. Otherwise, the owner of the dog is off the hook, even if the dog viciously attacks you.
This rule “bites”. The problem with this rule is that it doesn’t allow victims to sue the owner of the dog for the owner’s negligence. The owner might have a perfectly good dog with no viscous propensities, but the owner might nevertheless – through plain stupidity or negligence — cause even the Mother-Theresa-of-dogs to hurt people.
For example, in Doerr v. Goldsmith, a dog owner signaled for his nice, obedient doggy to come to him. Bad idea. The dog was on the opposite side of a very busy street. The tail-wagging, happy-go-lucky pooch then bolted across the busy street to his loving owner, causing an innocent bicyclist to be thrown from his bike.
Could the cyclist sue the dog owner for his negligence? No, New York’s highest Court said, because the rule in New York is you can’t sue a dog owner unless the dog has demonstrated “vicious propensities”, which this saint-of-a-dog surely had not.
Now isn’t that the dumbest doggone rule you ever heard?
Well, here’s an update. In the recent case of Scavetta v. Wechler, one of New York’s four intermediate appellate courts – the First Department – ruled that a dog owner who tied his big, strong dog to a small, light-weight, unsecured rack and then walked away, could NOT be held liable when the dog dragged the rack around in a panic and injured a good Samaritan trying to help. The Court, while very critical of the rule as established by New York’s highest Court, said it was constrained by the (bad) rule.
Weirdly, this silly rule does not apply to farm animals. For example, in Hastings v. Sauve, the Court held that an owner of a cow – or other farm animal — can be liable for negligently allowing the cow to roam onto a road and cause an accident. Obviously, the cow is not vicious, but still the owner can be held liable. So why not the same rule for dogs? Why can’t a dog owner be held liable for allowing his/her dog – even a friendly non-vicious one — to run loose and cause a car or bike accident or some other accident?
The rule just seems so unfair in so many ways. Message for New York’s highest Court: It’s time to unleash New York from this horrible rule.
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you!
Syracuse, Central NY dog bite and animal attack lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.