NYC dog bite lawyer
Photo courtesy of Reader’s Digest,

For many years now nationwide, and in fact as far back as the turn of the 20th century in New York State – perhaps the toughest jurisdiction in the country for victims of dog bites —  people who have been badly injured by dogs have had very little success seeking relief through the civil justice system (aka: the courts).  One noted case in particular, which is cited often as an example of this legal shortcoming, happened towards the end of 2011when the Court of Appeals dismissed the plaintiff’s case in Smith v. Reilly.  The issue at hand, which led to the dismissal, was a lack of evidence that the dog in question had what the courts refer to as a “vicious propensity.”  In other words, the plaintiff lacked proof that the dog was a mean SOB with a predilection for sinking its pointy k9s into unsuspecting human targets.

The law as it stands in The Empire State today requires that the owner can only be held liable if his/her dog hurts someone, or does damage to their property, if the owner of the dog knows, or should have known, that his/her dog posed a danger to strangers.  If the victim can prove that the animal has exhibited a vicious propensity in the past, the owner of the animal could face penalties for the harm it caused the victim.

How Does The Law Define Vicious Propensity?

While each case must be reviewed on its own merits, vicious propensity may be proven – and a defendant held liable for damages — under the following circumstances:

  • Whether the dog has been known to growl, snap, or bare its teeth.
  • Whether the dog was kept restrained, and the reason why.
  • Whether the dog was kept as a guard dog.
  • Whether the dog was known to have a tendency to attack others, even in playfulness (i.e. an overly friendly large dog whose idea of fun is unintended hurtful biting or knocking people to the ground).

New York State Is Unique

Despite having a strict liability rule, New York has not followed other states which have statutorily eliminated the requirement that a plaintiff prove that a dog owner knew, or should have known, of the dog’s vicious tendencies.  In adopting a strict liability approach, those states have decided that a dog owner, as opposed to the victim, should bear the full risk of dog ownership.

Pug or Pit Bull…Justice Is Blind to Size of Dog

When it comes to dealing with dog bites, it doesn’t matter if the animal is a 10 lb. pug or 100 lb. pit bull.  It also doesn’t matter where the attack occurred.  Again, the only standard that is considered in New York State is the “vicious propensity” test, and the responsibility of the owner to keep his/her premises safe.  For example, in some recent cases the courts have ruled in favor of the plaintiff where it was shown that a dog frequently shoved its nose under a fence and growled and snapped at neighbors.  Or, in situations where the defendants were aware that the dog was “moody” and “protective.”  Or, where defendants testified that their barking dog liked to rush toward moving cars.

When Should A Victim Speak With A Lawyer?

According to top New York dog bite injury lawyer Mitchel Ashley, under New York law the victim must show that a dog had a vicious propensity.  “But this designation is very fact specific,” Ashley explained.”  It’s important to speak with a lawyer who can find this out for the victim.

“Further,” Ashley added, “the amount of compensation is determined based on the degree of the victim’s pain and suffering, both physical and emotional. And, only a lawyer with experience handling dog bite cases will know what steps to take in each circumstance to insure that the victim of a dog bite receives justice, and the proper amount of compensation for what he or she has been through.”


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