Can I Sue After Being Attacked by a Dog in New York?

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Key Takeaways

  • One-Bite Rule Application: In New York, you can sue if the dog had previously shown signs of aggression or had bitten someone before. This indicates that the owner was or should have been aware of the dog’s dangerous nature, making them potentially liable for the attack.
  • Owner’s Responsibility and Liability: A dog owner may be held liable for injuries caused by their dog if they were aware of the dog’s vicious propensities or failed to adequately control the dog, leading to the attack.
  • Exceptions to Owner Liability: The owner might not be liable in certain situations. These include cases where the owner had no prior knowledge of the dog’s aggressive behavior, if the victim was trespassing at the time of the attack, or if the dog was provoked into attacking.
  • Statute of Limitations for Filing a Lawsuit: In New York, there is a three-year statute of limitations for filing a dog bite lawsuit. This means that legal action must be initiated within three years from the date of the dog attack.

Dogs can be amazing friends and companions. Without care and attention, though, they can be dangerous. Dog owners are responsible for controlling their dogs around other people. The dog’s owner may be liable for dog bite injuries in many situations under New York state law. According to the CDC, dog bites affect over 4.5 million people every year. More than 800,000 of those victims must seek medical attention. Children comprise the majority of dog bite victims, and they are more likely than adults to suffer severe injuries following dog attacks. If you, or a loved one, have been bitten by a dog in New York, do not wait. You may be able to recover damages from the dog owner, either through a claim to their insurance company or a lawsuit. Call The Coppola Firm today to speak to a dog bite attorney about how you can get the compensation you deserve.

We all love our pets, but with pet ownership also comes responsibility.  An important responsibility is to protect others from injury caused by our pets. Our firm usually sees this in the form of a dog bite or attack. Dog owners have a responsibility to protect others from injury caused by a dog attack. An important consideration when evaluating a dog bite case is to determine whether or not the dog has attacked before. A prior attack gives the owner notice of the dog’s “vicious propensities.” “Vicious propensities” is a legal term and is important when establishing the possibility of liability on the part of the owner.  What it means is that the dog has shown aggression in the past, either through an actual bite, attack or other aggressive behavior.  When a dog owner knows of such propensity, the owner has a responsibility to protect others from their dog.  Sometimes, even a dog’s breed is to be considered. A thorough investigation is therefore necessary to establish your case. Additional considerations also include the local laws in your community regarding keeping dogs on a leash, within a fenced in yard and other considerations. We often confer with local Animal Control Officers as part of our investigation on a case.  

If you or a loved one should ever have the misfortune of being bitten or attacked by a dog, seek medical care immediately – remember, Safety First.  Then, report it to your local Animal Control Officer, and call our office.  We will evaluate your case and help you in every way we can.

How Do I Know if a Dog Has a Vicious Propensity?

An experienced lawyer can help discover if a dog has a vicious propensity. You might be aware if a dog that bit you has bitten before. In addition to that, your lawyer can send a FOIL request to the New York State Department of Health, seek veterinarian records, depose (ask questions of) the dog’s owner, search for prior lawsuits or other court records, and conduct internet searches about the dog’s owner. 

What Are the Dog Bite Laws in New York?

New York has a “one-bite rule” that only holds a dog owner liable for injuries if they had reason to know that their dog could be dangerous to other people.

When a dog owner ignores a significant risk of a dog attack, and death or serious physical injury results, the owner could face misdemeanor criminal charges.

Dog bite victims may be able to recover compensation for most types of damages available in personal injury cases. This may include medical bills, lost wages, and other direct losses. It can also include noneconomic damages like pain and suffering, emotional anguish, and disfigurement.

One-Bite Rule

Dog with a muzzle over its mouth

New York dog bite laws are based on the legal theory of negligence. Generally speaking, negligence holds a person liable for personal injuries when they breached a duty of care in a way that caused the claimant’s injury. In car accident cases, for example, drivers have a duty of care to drive safely and obey traffic laws. A driver who fails to fulfill this duty could be liable for damages if that failure causes an accident. 

New York dog bite laws apply when a dog has previously been deemed dangerous or should have been deemed dangerous. This may occur in situations like the following:

  • A judge or justice has entered an official finding that the dog is a “dangerous dog” as defined by state law.
  • The dog has a known history of bites, attacks, or fighting.
  • The dog has a history of aggressive behavior, such as viciously lunging or barking at people or other animals.
  • The dog has engaged in other acts that would cause a reasonable person to consider the dog to be dangerous.

Failure to follow local laws governing dogs, such as leash laws, does not automatically lead to liability for dog bite injuries. A dog owner who violates a New York state law that addresses dangerous dogs, however, could face liability if the dog causes injuries to others.

Furthermore, this rule holds a dog owner liable for damages their dog caused if they knew or should have known that the dog could be dangerous. The rule gets its name from the idea that a dog gets one bite before the owner may be responsible for paying damages. However, it is not necessarily true that a dog gets one free bite under this rule. Knowing about the significant risk of a bite could be enough to establish liability.

A dog owner could be liable if they knew about the risk of a bite and failed to take precautions to prevent injury. This could mean restraining the dog with a leash or in a crate, muzzling a dog while in public, or warning people not to pet the dog. This risk can occur with any dog breed, large or small.

Let’s use an example. A dog might be one of the friendliest, sweetest creatures on the planet, with the exception that she is extremely protective of her food bowl. The dog tends to growl at anyone who gets too close while she is eating. The dog’s owner should take reasonable steps to avoid injuries, such as warning houseguests to stay away from the dog during feeding time. If the owner fails to do this, and the dog bites someone who gets between her and her food bowl, the owner could be liable for damages.

Can I Sue a Dog Owner in New York After Being Bitten?

You can file a dog bite lawsuit in New York in the following situations:

  • The bite resulted from the dog owner’s negligence; or
  • The dog had previously been classified as a “dangerous dog” or had displayed dangerous behavior, resulting in liability.

Insurance companies may pay compensation for dog bite claims through a homeowner’s policy or personal liability coverage.

When Is a Dog Owner Not Liable for a Dog Bite?

A dog owner is not liable for damages in some dog bite cases. The one-bite rule only holds dog owners liable in certain situations. Several defenses are available to a dog owner in a dog bite case.

If the Dog Had Never Bitten Before (to the Owner’s Knowledge)

If the owner of the dog had no knowledge of the dog biting anyone before, they might not be liable. However, the fact that a dog has no known history of bites is not necessarily enough on its own to avoid liability under the one-bite rule. A dog owner might still be liable if they had reason to suspect that the dog might bite someone.

Dogs often have complex personalities; even the friendliest dog can display aggressive behavior under certain circumstances. A dog owner might be aware that their dog has certain triggers that could cause them to nip at someone, such as sudden loud noises. In that situation, the owner must warn guests not to startle the dog in order to avoid potential liability.

Another example might involve a dog that is recovering from surgery and is disoriented. The owner knows that the dog is understandably irritable and possibly aggressive. They now have a duty to warn others to avoid touching, interacting with, or irritating the dog further.

If the Claimant Was Trespassing

Dogs can be quite territorial. They may try to defend their owner’s property against perceived intruders. This usually amounts to barking at people and other dogs passing by on the street outside, but it can also involve physically aggressive behavior. New York dog bite law recognizes the role of dogs as protectors of the home. It does not hold a dog owner liable for injuries that occur while the victim was trespassing on the owner’s property. Even if the dog has bitten someone before, a trespasser may not be able to recover. Dog owners only owe a duty of care to people they have invited onto their property.

If the Claimant Provoked the Dog

A dog owner is not liable for damages caused by a dog attack if the victim was provoking the dog. Provocation may include almost any action that a reasonable person would expect to produce an aggressive response from a dog. This could involve poking, prodding, or any other kind of roughhousing that would lead a dog to protect itself. It also includes actions that could cause a dog to act in defense of its owner, its puppies, or other animals in the household. In rural settings, dogs may act in defense of farm animals.

The defense of provocation could apply in cases that might not seem as obviously provocative, provided that the dog bite victim engaged in conduct they knew would likely provoke that particular dog. Some dogs, for example, can react aggressively to specific sounds or sudden loud noises. A person who knows that a dog has this kind of trigger could be found to have provoked the dog if they intentionally or carelessly made a triggering noise in the dog’s presence.

How Long Do I Have to File a Complaint After Being Bitten by a Dog in New York?

The deadline to file a dog bite lawsuit in New York, also known as the statute of limitations, is three years from the date of the injury. For example, if the dog attack occurred on January 1, 2023, you would have the option to file suit until January 1, 2026. Your claim should be ready well before this date if insurance coverage is available. Filing a lawsuit is usually the last option after negotiations with an insurance company have failed.

Bring Your Case to Heel

Dog bite injuries can cause severe pain, suffering, and financial hardship for victims and their loved ones. If you have suffered injuries in a dog attack, New York dog bite laws allow you to recover damages in many cases. An insurance company might offer you a settlement that will not cover all the necessary care. An experienced New York dog bite lawyer can help you get your deserved compensation. Call The Coppola Firm to learn more about your rights.

The attorneys at The Coppola Firm have years of experience working on both sides of cases involving dog bites and other areas of personal injury law. We are very familiar with how insurance companies and defense attorneys operate. The Coppola Firm is the only woman-owned personal injury law firm in Buffalo. We offer the following for our clients:

  • Free consultations for personal injury cases
  • Free advice videos
  • A ground-floor Buffalo office location with free parking

Speak to a Buffalo personal injury lawyer about your case today by calling 716-839-9700 or filling out our online contact form.

Lisa Coppola

Written by Lisa Coppola

Founder of The Coppola Firm

Lisa A. Coppola, Esq. understands the challenges her clients face, whether they’re starting a new business, taking their existing operations in a new direction, or facing a claim or threat.

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