In a recent case involving a dog biting an 11-year old in the face, we were reminded why the dog owner is not always guaranteed to be the one responsible for the attack. The facts in this case are simple. The child was visiting the dog owners’ house with his older brother. Without provocation, the dog bit the child on the face and would not let go until another child opened the dog’s mouth. As a result of the dog attack, the child suffered multiple severe deep cuts in his face which required emergency surgery and left him with multiple scars.
Many parents who experienced similar circumstances of their child suffering from injuries caused by dog bites or attacks will often seek compensation from the pet’s owner. However, even if the dog attacked their child without any justification or without any provoking of the animal, there is no guarantee the parents can recover any monetary compensation.
In New York, the owner of a domestic animal is not automatically responsible for injuries resulting from a bite or attack. Rather, the injured must prove that the animal had “vicious propensities” and the animal’s owner knew or should have known of these propensities. This term is defined as the tendency to do any act that might endanger the safety of the person or property in a given situation.
As applied to dogs, what this means is the injured party must show the dog’s owner was aware of the pet having engaged in prior similar acts that showed its vicious nature. This does not necessarily mean the dog had actually bitten or injured someone else before. The injured party can also show the dog was known to be vicious through evidence that it tended to growl, snap or bare its teeth. They can also show the manner the dog was restrained or whether it was kept as a guard dog. An injured party can also show the dog tended to act in a way that puts others at the risk of being harmed.
In past cases involving children, the courts have dismissed lawsuits where the injured party cannot show the dog had ever previously bitten anyone or exhibited aggressive behavior. Barking or growling without anything else is insufficient proof. The court will look at the facts and see whether the dog snapped or barred its teeth at the child. The court will also note the way the dog was restrained at the home. Another important factor that is considered is whether the dog was trained to guard the owner’s home.
In this recent case, the parents of the injured child were able to produce evidence suggesting the dog had “vicious propensities”. After discovery was completed, the dog owners made a motion for summary judgment where it asked the court to dismiss the complaint. They argued the case should be dismissed since they were unaware of any incident where the dog had previously bitten any person or animal. They also claimed they were unaware of the dog having acted aggressive, vicious or ferocious. Nor were they aware of the dog having ever attacked, harmed or threatened to harm any person or animal.
Both the lower court and appellate court denied the dog owners’ motion, reasoning the injured party was able to show the dog had “vicious propensities”. Here, the appellate court looked at the injured party’s evidence showing the dog’s owners kept it as a guard dog. They also relied on the evidence showing the dog bit the child on the face without any provocation and did not let go until the dog’s mouth was pried open. The appellate court therefore ruled that issues remained for a jury to determine whether the owners were aware of the dog’s vicious propensities.
As this case shows, it is not easy to prove whether a dog that bit or attacked your child is considered by law to have “vicious propensities”. Without the injured child’s attorney having been able to present evidence showing the dog was trained or used by the owners as a guard dog, the courts considering these facts could have easily reached the opposite result and dismissed the case. It is therefore essential to contact a law firm experienced in dog bite cases as they will help you prove the dog was dangerous and obtain the monetary recovery that your child is entitled to.
If you or someone you know has been the victim of an accident, please reach out to us for a free legal consultation by calling us 24/7 at 212– 514–5100, emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visiting our law firm in lower Manhattan (42 Broadway, Suite 1927). You can also ask us questions through the 24-hour chat box on our website (www.plattalaw.com). We offer free consultations for all potential personal injury cases.