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Summary Judgment Partially Granted and Partially Denied in New York Woman’s Case for Injuries Caused by Neighbors’ Dogs

Dog bites can cause serious harm, potentially triggering a Syracuse personal injury lawsuit. In most personal injury cases, the plaintiff has the burden of proving, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the defendant owed him or her a legal duty, that this duty was breached, that the plaintiff was harmed, and that the defendant’s breach of duty was the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. In a case involving a dog bite injury, however, the usual rules do not apply. Rather, under New York law, a dog’s owner will not be held to be “negligent,” even if his or her dog bites another person and causes serious personal injury.

Instead, the law of strict liability applies – but, only if the dog has either been previously adjudicated as a dangerous animal or if the victim can prove that the dog had a dangerous tendency to bite (and that the owner knew this.) If the owner is held strictly liable, he or she must pay both the human victim’s medical expenses and the veterinary costs if another animal was involved.

Facts of the Case

A recent case arising from the Supreme Court of Erie County, New York, involved an encounter between the plaintiff and her dog and two dogs owned by the defendants. According to the plaintiff, she was walking her dog when the defendants’ dog approached them. One of the defendants’ dogs only sniffed at the plaintiff’s dog, but the other dog allegedly came toward them at a full run and began biting the plaintiff’s dog. The plaintiff, in turn, lost her balance, fell over one of the dogs, and fractured her arm.

The plaintiff filed suit against the defendants, seeking compensation on both a negligence theory and a strict liability theory. Both sides sought summary judgment; the trial court denied both motions.

Decision of the Appellate Court

The Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division, Fourth Judicial Department, modified the lower court’s order but otherwise affirmed. The defendants argued on appeal that they should have been granted summary judgment because their dogs had not demonstrated vicious propensities prior to the incident giving rise to the plaintiff’s lawsuit. However, the court noted that a neighbor had testified via deposition that the defendants’ dogs had growled and “came charging” at her and her dog one day as they walked past the defendants’ house. According to the appellate court, this created a triable issue of fact as to whether the defendants’ dogs had vicious propensities.

The court of appeals agreed with defendants that the lower tribunal should have dismissed the plaintiff’s negligence action, holding that, under New York law, a claim sounding in ordinary negligence did not lie against a person responsible for a dog that caused injury.

Talk to a Syracuse Lawyer About a Personal Injury Claim

If you or a family member has been hurt because of another’s wrongful or negligent conduct, you may have a claim against the responsible party. However, you have only a limited time to assert your legal rights. To talk to an experienced Syracuse injury lawyer, call DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, LLP, at 315-479-9000 and ask for an appointment to learn more about our services.

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