Dog Bites and Attacks
With approximately 80 million dogs currently inhabiting the United States, it should come as no surprise that many incidents involving dogs occur every day. A survey by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently determined that more than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs every year with children between the ages of 5-9 comprising about 60% of that statistic. Having been bitten by a dog can be a physically scarring and emotionally traumatic experience, and in many instances could have been prevented by following leash laws and other laws involving restraints, and by accounting for possible threats one’s dog may pose to children, strangers or other animals in different situations. If you or a loved one has been bitten by a dog and sustained injuries or someone close to you has died as a result, call the Law Offices of Ira M. Perlman, P.C. & Robert D. Rosen, P.C. for a free initial consultation regarding your legal rights in order to obtain full and fair compensation due to your harms and losses.
Dog Bite Injuries
Injuries from dog bites range widely in terms of severity from a small puncture on the finger as a result of playful nipping to fatal injuries. Some common injuries resulting from dog bites include:
- Fractures/Broken bones
- Facial injuries
- Eye injuries
- Neck injuries
- Puncture wounds
- Significant disfigurement
Children are at greater risk of a dog bite injury because they do not have the height advantage that adults have over dogs, and when children startle dogs by approaching them from behind, staring directly into their eyes and touching their faces, that risk increases greatly. Therefore, caution should be taken before allowing dogs to be around small children, especially in an unsupervised setting.
In New York, a jury takes two items into consideration when deciding a verdict on whether the dog owner is liable for injuries sustained by the victim:
- Did the dog have “vicious propensities”?
- Did the dog owner know or should he or she have known about the dog’s “vicious propensities”?
If the answer to both of these questions is in the affirmative, the dog owner will be held strictly liable for the victim’s damages regardless of whether the dog owner was negligent in controlling or caring for the animal. Whether the incident occurred on the dog owner’s property is also irrelevant to a verdict for a dog bite or attack.
What is a Vicious Propensity?
A vicious propensity in the case of a domesticated animal is a natural tendency, inclination or habit of behaving in a fashion that threatens the safety of people or property. In proving a dog’s vicious propensities, the victim and his or her counsel must show that the frequency of the dog’s dangerous actions provides reasonable grounds for believing that it would injure someone. Evidence of a dog’s vicious propensities includes whether:
- The dog was muzzled or kept on a chain or rope;
- The dog had attacked other people or animals in the past;
- The dog had displayed a violent disposition towards other people or animals approaching it in the past through growling or snapping/baring its teeth; and
- The dog had previously acted in a way that puts others at risk of harm through acts such as chasing vehicles and interfering with traffic or excessive jumping.
None of the instances listed above are alone sufficient to establish a dog’s vicious propensity, as there must be a recognizable pattern of dangerous proclivities (as opposed to an isolated, minor incident). Also, the breed and size of the dog (on its own) is insufficient for proving a dog’s vicious propensities and the owner’s knowledge of them. Negligence on the part of the dog owner in cases involving violations of New York’s leash laws is also irrelevant to the jury’s verdict. If it is found that the owner was genuinely unaware of the dog’s vicious propensity that does not necessarily exonerate him or her of liability for the victim’s damages. If it is proven that a person of reasonable prudence and intelligence would find the dog’s previous pattern of behavior to indicate vicious propensities, the defendant in that case may be liable for the victim’s injuries.
In cases where others besides the owner harbor a dog and either had or should have had knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensities prior to an attack, that person or persons may be liable for injuries sustained by the victim. This also applies to a landlord who knowingly allows a tenant to keep a dog with vicious propensities and fails to take reasonable steps to prevent a possible attack, and an attack occurs on the landlord’s premises, resulting in injuries.
Contributory and Comparative Negligence
In terms of contributory negligence, there could potentially be no recovery for the victim of a dog attack if it can be proven by the defendant that the victim acted both deliberately and maliciously in provoking the dog to attack. Also, if a person is victimized by a dog attack resulting from assuming the care of the dog in question from its owner, and the owner informed the victim of the risk associated with caring for the dog prior to the attack, the owner may not be liable for the victim’s injuries.
It is important to realize that even when liability has been proven against the owner of a dog or possessor of a building or property who knowingly allows a dog with vicious propensities to remain on the property, the inquiry does not end there under the law in court. The reason for this is that in the State of New York, people who have been the victim of a dog attack or dog bite also have the duty act reasonably as well. Therefore, even if a jury has made a determination that a defendant dog owner or a property owner was negligent and responsible for causing a dog bite or attack, that same jury will have the responsibility to determine whether or not the a victim himself or herself bears a percentage of liability or responsibility for contributing to the happening of the attack or bite. In plain English, this means that a jury has the capability of finding a defendant only partially responsible whereby the victim bears the remaining responsibility for the attack or bite. For example, if a jury finds that the defendant and the plaintiff were equally at fault then they would report back that each party was fifty (50%) percent responsible. However, if a jury found that one party was more at fault, the jury would assign a higher percentage to that party and a lower percentage to the other party, with the total of the percentages equaling one hundred (100%) percent. Therefore, any combination of percentages between the parties is possible as long as the total of one hundred (100%) percent is reached. Very importantly, if the plaintiff victim is found to be partially at fault, then whatever amount of money is awarded to the plaintiff victim for his or her injuries, harms and losses will also be reduced in proportion to the percentage of liability found against the plaintiff victim. Therefore, if a jury awarded an accident victim $100,000.00 for his or her injuries, that award would have to be reduced to $50,000.00 if the same jury found that the accident victim was fifty (50%) percent responsible for the happening of the accident.
At the Law Offices of Ira M. Perlman, P.C. & Robert D. Rosen, P.C., our goal is to help our clients recover maximum compensation for all losses, both economic and non-economic. In many types of cases, such as dog bites and attacks, one way we accomplish this goal is by making sure that no blame is assigned to our client, the victim due to unfair blame. Unfortunately, partial blame is often unjustly placed upon the victim(s) and a reduction in the damages they recover is often the result. We always vigilantly protect our clients by putting full effort towards negating claims of comparative negligence by the adverse party.