You’re driving along a country highway, rounding a curve, when —- bam — you run into a cow. Yes, a cow! Why? Farmer Brown left a gaping hole in his fencing, and the big dumb animal wandered out. Can you sue the farmer for this obvious negligence?
Until just the other day, the answer was, surprisingly, “no”, at least not in New York. The rule in New York (which I blogged about last year) was that you could sue the owner of an animal which harms you ONLY if the owner knew or should have known the animal had “VICIOUS PROPENSITIES“.
This “vicious propensities” rule grew out of dog bite case law. The courts reasoned that it wouldn’t be fair to hold a dog owner liable for his dog’s first bite unless he knew his dog was a problem. This was sometimes referred to – though not very accurately – as the “one free bite rule”.
But the “vicious propensities” rule never made any sense with stray cows or other farm animals. Since cows are never “vicious”, farmer Brown could let Bessie out onto the roadway innumerable times and cause innumerable accidents but suit would always be barred because the animal was not “vicious”.
The law in New York, as it stood, was an outrage.
No longer. Just the other day, the Court of Appeals changed the law with the case of Hastings v Suave. In that case, the Court ruled that “a landowner or the owner of . . . a farm animal . . . may be held liable where the animal is negligently allowed to stray from the property on which the animal is kept” even when the animal did not display “vicious propensities”.
But what happens if a (non-vicious) dog or cat strays out into the roadway and causes a collision? Can you sue the owner then? The Court left that question open for another day, stating “we do not consider whether the same rule applies to dogs, cats or other household pets; that question must await a different case”.
That “different case” should not take too long to go up to the Court of Appeals. Cats and dogs running into the road and causing accidents is fairly common.
Email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org I’d love to hear from you!
Michael G. Bersani, Esq.
michaels-smolak.com Central NY Personal Injury Lawyers
Michaels & Smolak, P.C.