According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, each year approximately 4.5 million people receive dog bites in the United States, with nearly 1 out of every 5 dog bites leading to infection. Dog may be man’s best friend, but all dogs are capable of inflicting serious injuries. Although some dog breeds have been associated with dog biting incidents, even the smallest of dogs can inflict significant and disfiguring injuries to a person.
Dog bites can cause numerous types of injuries. The worst dog bite injuries may result in death or long-term hospitalization. Permanent scarring is one of the most common and long lasting outcomes of a dog bite attack. Infection is another serious concern. Depending on the severity and location of the bite, plastic surgery may be required as a result of a dog bite. It is also not uncommon for dog bite victims to develop a fear of dogs or have other emotional symptoms as a result of a dog biting incident.
Stephanie Ovadia has handled numerous dog bite cases throughout her career as a personal injury attorney on Long Island. She is keenly aware of the damages that dog bites may cause a person, such as hospitalization, lost wages, physical rehabilitation, reconstructive surgeries, and emotional trauma. If you or a loved one has been injured due to a dog bite, consider consulting the Law Office of Stephanie G. Ovadia to evaluate your claim.
When is a Dog Owner Liable?
Under the common law, the “one-bite rule” is a long-standing legal principle that provides for the legal protection of a dog owner where the dog has not exhibited a “dangerous propensity” before. In essence, a dog may be able to bite one person or companion animal (like a cat or another dog) before the owner may be legally liable for his or her dog’s biting. It can be thought of as a “free pass” before an owner can be held liable. After the first bite, the dog’s dangerous propensity is essentially known.
Under New York law, a dog owner or lawful custodian may be liable even for a dog’s first bite if the dog’s vicious nature was known or should have been known. Although New York law essentially follows the “one-bite rule”, there is an exception if the owner knows or should have known about his or her dog’s “vicious propensities.” This knowledge-based exception has led the highest court in New York state, the New York Court of Appeals, to say that the “common shorthand name of [New York’s] traditional rule — the ‘one-bite rule’ — is a misnomer.” (Bard v. Jahnke, 6 N.Y.3d 592, 599 ).
Courts often cite that “vicious propensities” includes the “propensity to do any act that might endanger the safety of the persons and property of others in a given situation.” (Collier v. Zambito, 1 NY3d 444 at 447 , citing Dickson v. McCoy, 39 NY 400, 403 ). Evidence of a “vicious propensity” may be less than an actual, previous biting incident, such as if the dog was known to growl, snap, or bare its teeth or was kept as a guard dog. (Id. at 447.)
What’s the Liability for Dog Biting Incidents?
New York does not have a common-law negligence cause of action for dog bite cases. (Ciliotta v. Ranieri, 2014 NY Slip Op 51746 [Sup. Ct. Kings Ctny. 2014], citing Egan v Hom, 74 AD3d 1133 [2d Dept 2010]). Instead, dog owners and lawful custodians face strict liability for the harm his or her dog causes as a result of the dog’s “vicious propensities”. (Collier at 448.).
Strict liability means a person need not be found negligent in their actions to be held liable. A person may have taken great precaution and care, but strict liability imposes liability without a dependence upon negligence, recklessness, or intent. In other words, a dog owner or lawful custodian may be liable for a dog biting incident even when precautions were taken to avoid a dog biting situation.
Attempts to inject negligence into lawsuits involving dog biting incidents have been denied by New York courts. In Petrone v. Fernandez, the New York Court of Appeals rejected an attempt to inject a cause of action sounding in negligence for the violation of a local leash law. In that case, the highest court in New York stated that a “violation of the local leash law is ‘irrelevant because such a violation is only some evidence of negligence, and negligence is no longer a basis for imposing liability’. (Petrone v. Fernandez, 12 N.Y.3d 546, 550 , citing Alia v. Fiorina, 39 AD3d 1068, 1069 [3d Dept. 2007]).
A common question asked to dog bite lawyers is whether or not a landlord may be held liable for a dog biting incident that occurred on property leased to someone else. Under New York law, a landlord’s knowledge and control are critical in determining liability. A landlord must have (i) had notice that a dog was being harbored on the premises; (ii) knew or should have known that the dog had vicious propensities, and (ii) had sufficient control of the premises to allow the landlord to remove or confine the dog. (McKnight v. ATA Hous. Corp., 2012 NY Slip Op 2847 [2d Dept. 2012]; see also Strunk v. Zoltanski, 62 NY 2d 572, 575 ).
Whose Susceptible to Dog Bites?
Children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children ages 5 to 9 years of age are at the highest risk among children and are more likely to receive medical treatment for dog bites than adults.
Men. As reported by the CDC, adult men are more likely than adult woman to suffer a dog biting attack.
Certain Occupations.Postal carriers, utility workers, delivery persons, and other people involved in similar occupations that require constant contact with other people’s homes are at an increased risk of receiving dog bites.
Walkers, Joggers, and Runners. Many dog biting related incidents occur as people walk, jog, or run by a dog in an improperly fenced yard.
The “Dangerous Breeds” of Dogs
The following non-exhaustive list of dog breeds are generally considered “dangerous” as these dog breeds (or cross-breeds thereof) have been involved in human dog-bite related fatalities:
A common name given to several formal breeds of dogs, which includes the American Pit Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and American Staffordshire Terrier. Historically associated with blood sports, many pit bull-type dogs are abused and used in illegal dog fighting.
A versatile dog breed originating from Germany. Traditionally used to herd and guard livestock. This powerful dog breed, along with Pitbulls, can have devastating effects when biting.
A large-sized, intelligent work dog. Like the Rottweiler, this dog breed originated in Germany. Originally developed for herding sheep, this dog is a favorite of law enforcement, military, and search-and-rescue operations due to its strong smelling ability, intelligence, and power.
A common name given to a type of dog associated with sledding. Formal breeds include the Siberian Husky, Sakhalin Husky, Alaskan Husky, Labrador Husky, and Greenland Dog. Energetic and athletic.
A large arctic breed of dog, similar to Huskies. Considered to be one of the oldest breeds of dogs. A powerful breed, the Alaskan Malamutes is still used as a sled dog. It is the official state dog of Alaska.
A medium dog breed originating from Germany. Descended from a combination of many powerful dog breeds, it is known for its intelligence and guarding abilities.
Chow Chows are an ancient dog bred originating from China. A strong breed, Chow Chows are known to be protective of family.
A large dog breed originating from Germany. Known for growing to great heights and weights, Great Danes were historically used by nobility during hunting expeditions.
St. Bernards are a large dog breed historically known for use in Alpine rescues. Popularized in the family comedy movie series Beethoven.
“Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998” by Jeffrey J. Sacks, MD, MPH; Leslie Sinclair, DVM; Julie Gilchrist, MD, available online at http://www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/images/dogbreeds-a.pdf.
Despite many dog breeds being labeled as “dangerous breeds” by various groups and organizations, the New York Court of Appeals has never “held that particular breeds or kinds of domestic animals are dangerous.” (Bard v. Jahnke, 6 N.Y.3d 592, 599 ). Accordingly, dog breed alone does not make a dog have “vicious propensities”. Phrased differently, having “vicious propensities” is not breed specific, it is a determination found regarding a specific dog.
How an insurance company deals with a “dangerous breed” is entirely different. A growing number of insurance companies exclude one or more of the “dangerous breeds” from coverage or requires a premium for coverage. This may have a significant impact on a potential recovery for the victim of a dog biting incident.
Does Insurance Cover Dog Bites?
Whether victim or dog owner, one of the most commonly asked questions people have regarding dog bites is if a homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy will cover a dog biting incident. The answer is that it depends on the policy. Often times, the answer is yes as many insurance policies do cover dog biting incidents. According to the Insurance Information Institute, dog bite incidents accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners insurance liability claims in 2014 (over $530 million).
Examining what is excluded from any applicable insurance policy is critical. Some insurance companies exclude one or more of the “dangerous breeds” from coverage. Others exclude all dogs or other animals from coverage. There are even situations where an insurance policy will cover dog biting incidents for an added premium, which may or may not have been paid.
Determining whether insurance exists and locating any applicable insurance company can be difficult for non-attorneys. A knowledgeable Long Island dog bite lawyer should know how to present dog biting cases to insurance companies so that the claim may be processed efficiently and effectively. Sometimes, a dog bite attorney may be able to resolve a claim with the insurance company without the need to file a lawsuit.