New York is one of the few states in the country that has a hybrid dog bite law
Whether you’re a dog owner or a dog bite victim, it’s important to understand the ins and outs of New York’s dog bite statute.
Imagine a leisurely walk in Central Park, the sun shining and the city’s hustle drifting to a background hum. Suddenly, an unexpected growl, a flash of teeth, and a painful bite shatter your peaceful morning.
At first, the bite seems minor, just a sharp pain quickly subsiding. However, as the day passes, the wound becomes the breeding ground for a severe infection.
Incidents like this are all too common in New York, underscoring the importance of knowing the state’s dog bite laws, whether you’re a dog owner or a dog bite victim.
New York dog bite statistics
There are an estimated 600,000 dogs in New York City alone.
According to the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), more than 6,000 emergency department visits and more than 300 inpatient hospitalizations are related to dog bite injuries every year in New York City.
Outside the city, dogs remain just as popular. However, the statistics in these areas are not as well kept.
Pitbull and pitbull mixes are responsible for the majority of dog bites in New York, according to DOHMH.
Understanding dog bite laws
When it comes to dog bites, most states have adopted either a strict liability or one-bite law:
Strict liability laws:
Strict liability means that a defendant is liable if a certain event occurs, even if the defendant couldn’t prevent or predict the event.
In states with strict liability dog bite laws, a dog owner is liable for the injuries caused by their dog if the injured person can prove that their injury was caused by the dog bite.
It’s that simple.
In a strict liability state, it doesn’t matter that the dog never bit anyone before or that the dog was on a leash. If the dog bites someone, the owner is liable.
Other states have one-bite laws (sometimes called “one-free-bite laws”). These states protect owners from liability for a dog bite if the dog hadn’t shown violent tendencies up to that point.
To put it another way, an injured person in a one-bite law state needs to prove that:
- Their injury was caused by the dog bite, and
- The owner knew or should have known about their dog’s violent tendencies (for example, proof that the dog previously bit someone, and the owner knew about it).
New York’s dog bite law
New York’s dog bite law is unique because it combines both the strict liability and the one-bite law concepts.
In this hybrid approach, the state imposes strict liability for medical and veterinary costs. However, to claim other damages, such as pain and suffering, the victim must prove the dog had a dangerous tendency known to the owner.
To better illustrate this hybrid approach, consider the following hypothetical:
Imagine Sarah, a Brooklyn resident, taking her usual evening stroll in Prospect Park. Without warning, she's bitten by a seemingly calm dog named Max, owned by her neighbor, John. Max had never shown aggression before, and there were no prior incidents or complaints against him. Sarah incurs medical expenses for treating the bite wound.
Under New York's law, John is immediately responsible for Sarah's medical bills due to strict liability. This means Sarah doesn't need to prove Max's prior aggression or John's knowledge of it for her medical expenses. However, the bite wound leads to significant pain, trauma, and time off work for Sarah. She decides to seek compensation for these additional damages.
Here, the law's second tier comes into play. For Sarah to claim compensation beyond medical costs, she must prove Max had a history of aggression or a tendency to bite, which John knew about. Through her lawyer, Sarah discovers that Max had previously snapped at other park-goers, although he hadn't bitten anyone before. These incidents were known to John, but he hadn't taken any significant steps to address Max's behavior.
Armed with this information, Sarah can now argue that John was aware of Max's dangerous tendencies, thereby fulfilling the requirements of New York's hybrid dog bite law to claim compensation for her pain, suffering, and lost wages.
Dangerous dog classifications and laws in New York
New York State has implemented specific legislation to safeguard the public from the threats posed by dangerous dogs. This is articulated in Section 108 of Article 7, Chapter 69 of the New York Agriculture & Markets Law.
According to this statute, a dog is deemed “dangerous” if it:
- Causes serious injury or death to a person, companion animal, or farm animal without justification, or
- Exhibits behavior that would lead a reasonable person to believe the dog presents a serious and unjustified immediate threat of substantial physical harm or death.
When a dog's behavior raises concerns about its danger to the community, any individual can report their concerns to local animal control officers or the police. This report triggers a formal hearing to assess the dog's dangerousness. At this hearing, the responsibility lies with the complainant to present clear and convincing evidence affirming the dog's dangerous nature.
Should the judge conclude that the dog poses a danger, various measures may be mandated to ensure public safety. These measures can include:
- Sterilization, microchipping, or neutering the dog,
- Mandating owner-funded training,
- Enforcing confinement for the dog,
- Requiring the dog to be leashed and supervised by an individual aged 21 or older in public spaces,
- Mandating the use of a muzzle in public, and
- In extreme cases, ordering euthanasia.
Moreover, once a dog has been deemed “dangerous,” its owner could face criminal charges for future incidents, including:
- A penalty of up to $3,000,
- A potential jail sentence of up to one year.
What are the steps following a judicial order for euthanasia?
Upon a judicial decision mandating euthanasia, there is a mandatory 30-day window for the possibility of an appeal. During this period, the execution of the euthanasia order is paused. However, this waiting period can be shortened if the dog's owner provides a written waiver, consenting to an earlier date for euthanasia.
In cases where an appeal is lodged, the process of euthanasia is temporarily halted. This suspension remains in effect until a ruling is made on the appeal, determining whether the euthanasia will proceed or not.
Defenses in dog bite lawsuits
When it comes to dog bite incidents in New York, not all situations lead directly to the liability of the dog owner. There are specific defenses that can alter the outcome of a claim.
- Provocation: One of the most common defenses in dog bite cases is provocation. If the owner can convincingly demonstrate that the bite occurred because the injured party provoked the dog, then liability may not fall on the owner. Provocation can take various forms, such as teasing, physically harming, or aggressively approaching the dog in a manner that would cause a reasonable dog to react defensively.
- Trespassing: The second key defense relates to the status of the bitten individual on the owner's property. Suppose a person is bitten while unlawfully on the property; the owner might not be held liable for the injuries. However, this defense is not absolute. Dog owners may still have a duty to warn known trespassers of a dog's presence. This can be fulfilled by posting visible warning signs like "Beware of Dog."
Injuries and damages in dog bite cases
Dog bites can cause severe injuries, including:
- Broken bones
Beyond these immediate physical injuries, there’s a lesser-known yet significant risk of serious infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 18 percent of dog bites become infected with harmful bacteria.
Dog bites can cause the following diseases:
- Capnocytophaga bacteria
- Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
In New York, victims of dog bites are entitled to recover medical expenses resulting from the attack. This includes costs associated with treating the immediate physical injuries as well as addressing resultant infections or diseases.
Additionally, in certain circumstances, victims may also be eligible to claim noneconomic damages. These include pain and suffering, emotional distress, and loss of consortium, reflecting the broader impact of the incident beyond just the physical harm.