Dog Bite

For personal injury cases, including those arising from dog bites, the deadline (“statute of limitations”) for bringing your case to court is three years from the date of injury.  If you do not file your case within the 3-year time limit, you will be prevented from filing it at all.  Therefore, it is very important to be mindful of when the injury occurred and how much time has elapsed.

Dog Bite personal injury“Strict liability” (liability without fault) attaches in cases of domestic animals when the animal has vicious propensities of which the owner or harborer has knowledge or reason to know. Most such cases involve attacks by dogs. The owner or keeper of the animal is held to have known of its vicious propensities when “they existed for such a period of time that a reasonably prudent person would have discovered them.”[1] The fact that the owner may not have been negligent in the manner in which the animal was kept or controlled is irrelevant.[2] This common law concept is often referred to colloquially as the “one-bite” rule.

However, “one-bite” is a misnomer, since a dog need not actually bite someone in order to display vicious propensities.  New York courts have held that displays of aggressive behavior, such as growling, snapping, or barring of teeth, can all evidence a propensity for viciousness.  On the other hand, the mere presence of “Beware of Dog” signs on property is insufficient proof of knowledge on the owner’s part.  Similarly, the fact that a dog is chained and barks at passersby does not, standing alone, create an inference that the dog was vicious.

There are two important exceptions to this liability. First, police dogs are generally exempt from this common law standard.  Second, the plaintiff’s own conduct can sometimes erase the animal’s culpability. If the defendant can prove that plaintiff was hurting or provoking the animal, the law considers this an assumption of risk (a/k/a the “in harm’s way” defense), and the plaintiff is wholly barred from recovering damages.[3]

[1] Papadopoulos v. Gardner’s Village, Inc., 198 A.D.2d 216 (1993).

[2] Russell v. Rivera, 780 N.Y.S.2d 699 (App. Term 2004).

[3] Arbegast v. Board of Educ., 65 N.Y.2d 161 (1985).

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Know Your Rights

If you are bitten by a dog, you may be entitled to recover various damages, including: medical bills, lost income, property damage, pain and suffering, and loss of consortium.  Pain and suffering could include a newly-developed fear of dogs, or any potential scarring.  These factors are especially relevant to child victims, because they will likely bear such wounds for a longer period of time.

Example Dog Bite Verdicts/Settlements

Moliterno v. SSF (N.Y. Sup. 2015) – Plaintiff was attacked by Defendant supply-yard owner’s dog. The dog bit him in the left (non-dominant) hand and threw him to the ground, causing a complex laceration that required partial surgical amputation of Plaintiff’s left pinkie finger. The case settled prior to trial for $1,350,000.

Febbraio v. Borchelt (N.Y. Sup. 2000) – 45-year-old male Plaintiff suffered injuries after a dog being trained by Defendant bit him in the groin. The injuries required an operation, and a jury ultimately awarded Plaintiff $1,000,000 for pain and suffering.

Liberman v. City of New York (N.Y. Sup. 2007) – 74-year-old male Plaintiff suffered serious injuries, including multiple facial fractures, partial hearing loss, and bilateral hand degloving, after he was attacked and mauled by five stray dogs at a boardwalk owned and maintained by Defendant city. The case settled prior to trial for $3,000,000.