Keeping Up-to-Date with Changing Dog Bite Laws

Whether you’re a New York City veterinarian, the manager of a pet shop, or just a garden variety dog owner, it is vital to keep abreast of your local dog bite laws. These laws are in constant flux and are often changed, updated, and rewritten without much public fanfare. In the event of personal injury, the fine print can loom suddenly large, and awareness is the key to protecting yourself against litigation.

Understanding NY’s Dog Bite Accusations

In New York, there are two breeds of dog bite accusations: strict liability and negligence-based.

In the event that the victim of a dog bite sustains injuries which require treatment, the owner of a “dangerous dog” is on the hook for the victim’s medical bills. This is what is meant by strict liability. Strict liability extends to any livestock or companion animals that may have been injured in the attack. Per New York City’s dog bite statute, a dangerous dog is defined as one which:

  • attacks and injures or kills a person, farm animal, or pet without justification, or
  • behaves in a way that would make a reasonable person believe the dog poses “serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death.”

Non-medical costs (property damage, et al) related to a dog bite fall under the umbrella of negligence. If a dog’s owner is accused of negligence, the prosecution will have to prove that the owner was careless in restraining the dog or warning others about the dog’s dangerous behavior. Often referred to as the “one bite rule,” negligence comes into effect if a dog behaves violently on one occasion and, in the aftermath, its owner does not make give appropriate warning to those who might come in contact with the dog.

When Can A Lawsuit Be Filed?

Claims and civil lawsuits can be filed within three years of the initial bite. With this in mind, it is especially important to keep up-to-date with the laws as they change, and also to consider the types of defense you can mount in order to protect you and your dog. The key is to spare your dog the “dangerous” label, and that can be avoided by advancing one or more of the following defenses.

In the event that the victim was trespassing on your property, it is possible to assert that the dog was protecting your property against an intruder. If there is any evidence or suggestion that the victim was tormenting or threatening the dog, a defense can be made that the dog was provoked but is not otherwise dangerous. Should the dog have been in pain or discomfort at the time of the attack, or if it was protecting its owner, family, or young, this is a valid defense that would challenge the “dangerous dog” label and open a new avenue for contesting the initial charges.

Bear in mind that dog bite laws apply not only to bites but, also to any other dog-related injuries resulting from the attack. It is also important to consider that a dog needn’t physically bite for it to be eligible for “one bite” status. It is sufficient that a dog might be dangerous. If this is suspected by the owner, or if it is a reasonable assumption given the dog’s size and breed, then the onus is on the owner to caution anyone who may come in contact with the dog.

Get Legal Help To Interpret The Law

New York City law allows victims to cast a surprisingly wide net with their accusations. If you are unsure of which defense to employ, consult a personal injury lawyer with expertise in the field. Though the scales may seem tilted in favor of the accuser, New York City law does take pains to protect citizens against trespassers. In general, property owners are not held to account for any injuries that a trespasser may sustain on private property, whether from the property owner or his or her dog.

Because these laws change often, and also due to the many nuances of the interpretation of each law, it is vital to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer so as to mount the most thorough and most effective defense.


Author Bio:

Tom Moverman established the Lipsig Queens Law Firm with Harry Lipsig and his partners in 1989; The firm’s focus is in personal injury, construction accidents, car accidents, products liability, and medical malpractice.

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