Dog Bite Law: New York State

Monday, September 17, 2012

Although dogs are often times considered a member of the family or a trusted companion, there are tens of thousands of dog bites a year throughout the United States. When this occurs, most people believe they are without legal rights, however, dog bites are considered extremely serious to the New York State court system and to many experienced attorneys.


New York is a "mixed" state, meaning that it has a dog bite statute that mixes the one-bite rule with a degree of strict liability. Strict liability means that the dog owner is responsible for any injuries the dog may cause regardless of most circumstances. The statute makes a dog owner or keeper strictly liable only for medical and veterinary costs. For other damages, New York requires a victim to prove that the dog had a dangerous tendency to bite people, and that the dog owner knew it.

“Dangerous” Dogs

If a dog attacks or threatens to attack people or other pets, there can be a hearing in court on whether the dog is a “dangerous dog.” A "dangerous dog" is one that "without justification" either (a) attacks and injures or kills a person, "companion animal," farm animal or "domestic animal" or (b) "behaves in a manner which a reasonable person would believe poses a serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death" to one or more of the foregoing. Finding a dog “dangerous” allows the court to force the owners to take action to attempt to make sure the dog interacts safely with others.

The court can request a variety of actions for the pet including:

▪ Requesting that the dog to be leashed or muzzled at all times in a public area,

▪ Requesting the owners to confine the pet (by fencing it, etc.) for a specific amount of time,

▪ Having the dog trained,

▪ Maintaining an insurance policy on the dog in case of future attack, and,

▪ In very serious cases, euthanasia (putting the dog down) or permanent confinement.

Penalties For Owners

By statute, the penalties on the owner of a pet who has attacked can range from a fine to the possibility of one year in jail. The penalty depends on what happened during an attack and whether the pet had ever been declared “dangerous” before. For example, if a dog attacked a person or caused physical injury or serious physical injury to a guide dog, the owner may be fined. However, if the attacking dog was declared dangerous in the past and attacked again, the owner may be charged with a misdemeanor and face up to one year in jail.

If a dog owner negligently permits his dog to bite a person, and the dog previously was declared to be dangerous, and the injury is a "serious injury," the dog owner can be convicted of a misdemeanor, which may equal $1000 file and jail time. A "serious injury" is one that causes death or presents the risk of death, or causes "serious or protracted" disfigurement, "protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ." If a dog previously declared dangerous escapes or otherwise gets to a person and kills him, the owner can be convicted of a class A misdemeanor, which can be punishable up to one year in jail, in addition to other penalties and civil liability.

If You Have Been Bitten by a Dog

As soon as possible after a dog bite, you should try to identify the owner of the dog who bit you, and obtain a name and address if possible. Not only does this preserve your right to sue later should you require expensive medical treatment, it helps your medical professional determine whether you should undergo a series of painful and expensive vaccinations to protect you from rabies.

To help build a case against the dog owner, you should document all of your expenses, including lost wages from time off to seek medical attention and/or therapy and damage to personal property. Take photographs of your injuries, any torn clothes, and damaged personal property. Get witness contact information.

In the state of New York, a three year statute of limitations apply to dog bites. It is important to attain legal representation as soon as possible after the dog attack to ensure your legal rights are protected.

Practice Areas: 

Accidents & Injuries