New York Dog Bite Laws

Here's when a dog owner can be on the legal hook for injuries in New York.

Like other states, New York has its own set of rules when it comes to dog owner liability for injuries caused by their animals. In this article, we'll look at several New York laws that could come into play when one person's dog bites or otherwise injuries someone else, including the state's "dangerous dog" statute and defenses that a dog owner might raise in the face of a dog bite lawsuit.

New York's Dog Bite Statute for "Dangerous Dogs"

New York Agriculture & Markets Code section 123 (part of the Laws of New York) addresses a dog owner's potential civil liability when the owner's dog injures another person. The statute covers both injuries caused by bites and non-bite injuries, like those suffered when a dog knocks a person to the ground.

The statute states that the owner of a "dangerous dog" is liable if the dog causes injuries to another person, to livestock, or to another person's companion animal, like a disability service dog.

The statute defines a "dangerous dog" as one that:

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

However, the statute specifically states that a law enforcement dog carrying out its duties cannot be considered a "dangerous dog."

Liability for Damages in New York Dog Bite Cases

Under New York's "dangerous dog" statute, a dog owner is "strictly liable" for all medical bills resulting from injuries caused by a "dangerous dog." This means that if the dog is found to be dangerous, the dog's owner must pay the injured person's medical bills (or bills for the treatment of injuries to livestock or pets) even if the dog's owner had taken reasonable precautions to control or restrain the dog.

For other types of damages resulting from a dog bite or dog-related injury, the injured person must usually prove that the dog's owner was negligent. In other words, the injured person must show that the dog's owner failed to use reasonable care to prevent the injuries from occurring (failed to take reasonable steps to control or restrain the animal, in other words).

For example, suppose that a dog slips out of its own yard, breaks down the neighbor's fence, and enters the neighbor's yard, where it bites the neighbor. While the injured neighbor may be able to recover the costs of medical care under New York's strict liability rule, the neighbor cannot recover the costs of replacing the broken fence unless the neighbor can show that the dog's owner failed to take reasonable steps to keep the dog in its own yard.

To learn more about the time limits for filing a dog bite claim, see How Long Do I Have to File a Dog Bite Lawsuit in New York?

Defenses to Dog Bite Claims in New York

New York's dog bite law provides several possible defenses that a dog's owner might raise in a civil liability claim. These include:
  • The dog was a law enforcement dog carrying out its duties, and so was not a "dangerous dog" according to the definition in the statute.
  • The dog was protecting its home against a person who was trespassing or committing a crime on the property.
  • The dog was protecting its owner, its puppies, or itself when it bit or injured a person.
  • The dog was reacting to pain or suffering it was experiencing when it bit or injured a person.
  • The dog was provoked when it was tormented, abused, or assaulted by the person who was bitten or injured.

Learn more about Comparative Negligence in New York Dog Bite Cases.

Criminal Liability for Dog Bites in New York

In some dog bite cases, the dog's owner may be charged with a misdemeanor. New York Agriculture & Markets Code section 123 allows charges to be filed if:
  • the dog was previously declared to be a "dangerous dog"
  • the owner negligently allows the dog to bite someone, and
  • the injury suffered is a "serious injury."
A "serious injury" is one that causes death, serious disfigurement, or the "protracted impairment" or loss of any body part or body organ.
If a "dangerous dog" overcomes an owner's attempts to restrain him and kills a person, the owner may also be charged with a misdemeanor. Any owner who faces a criminal charge relating to a dog bite might also face civil liability if the injured person decides to sue in civil court.

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