Throughout the U.S., state law treats dog bites differently, applying either a standard of strict liability or negligence. With strict liability, the owner is always liable for an unprovoked bite, even if the dog had no history of viciousness. Under a negligence standard, the owner is liable if he knew or should have known that the dog was likely to bite. Since the latter cases often rely on evidence of prior bites, the negligence standard is said to allow any dog "one free bite" before an owner has to compensate a victim.
New York is rare among states in that it employs a combination of strict liability and negligence. A dog owner is strictly liable for medical bills resulting from an unprovoked dog bite. But if the victim wants to claim other losses, such as lost income, pain and suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, etc., the victim must prove negligence.
To prove negligence, the victim must demonstrate that a reasonable owner would have realized this dog was likely to bite and would have taken precautions to protect the public, such as muzzling the dog while walking it and keeping it confined within an area from which it could not escape. New York allows dogs to be adjudicated "dangerous" and requires owners to take special care when harboring a "dangerous" dog. A previous adjudication is very helpful to the victim, because it denies the owner the defense of ignorance as to the dog's vicious tendencies.
An owner has several defenses to a dog bite lawsuit, including:
- Protection of property - A dog is permitted to defend a home from trespassers, vandals and burglars.
- Reasonable response to provocation - A person who teases, torments or abuses a dog should expect to be bitten.
- Protection of owner - Aggressive behavior toward the owner of a dog provokes a dog to attack.
- Reasonable response to pain - When a dog is injured, it is unlikely to recognize a good Samaritan, and is very likely to bite.
Even if it is clear that a dog bit you and injured you, a dog bite case is not always easy to win. Instead of dealing with the owner's insurance company directly, it's best to get reliable advice from an experienced dog bite attorney. For a free evaluation of your dog bite case, call Rubin & Licatesi, P.C. at 516-227-2662 or contact our Brooklyn office online.