Tragedy unfolded in Florida last month when an alligator at a Disney hotel resort lagoon attacked a two-year-old boy vacationing with his family. Although the boy’s father heroically attempted to rescue his son and save it from the animal, the boy was later found drowned. This week, authorities in Florida announced that they had euthanized the killer alligator.
Fortunately, New Yorkers do not have to fear alligators in our waterways. Indeed, wild animal attacks on humans are generally very rare. It may be unsurprising to learn that domestic animals attack people on a far more frequent basis than wild animals. Of those attacks, dogs are responsible for the most common type of animal attack. Statistics show that each year in the United States, there are a staggering 4.5 million dog bites in the United States. Of that number, about 28 attacks are fatal.
However, even a non-fatal dog attack can lead to devastating injuries. Besides personal injuries like severe puncture wounds, dog bites can cause debilitating infections as a result of the bacteria that reside in canine mouths. About one in five dog bites leads to infection. See CDC Dog Bite Prevention.
In New York State, dog owners can be held responsible for the injuries that their dogs cause to humans and property. In order for the victim of an dog attack to prevail in court, the victim must show that the owner knew or should have known of the dog’s “vicious propensities” before the attack and that the vicious propensities led to the alleged injuries. Collier v. Zambito 1 N.Y.3d 444, 446-47 (2004). New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, has defined “vicious propensities” to include the “propensity to do any act that might endanger the safety of the persons and property of others in a given situation”. Collier v. Zambito 1 N.Y.3d 444, 446 (2004) (internal citations omitted).
Proving that a dog has violent propensities may be difficult. One way to do so is to show that the dog had attacked someone in the past. However, that is not the only avenue by which someone can win a dog bite case. Examples include showing that a dog that had “been known to growl, snap or bare its teeth”, the fact that an owner decided to always keep his or her dog restrained, and even how an owner restrained the dog. Collier v. Zambito 1 N.Y.3d 444, 447 (2004). Notably, New York State law holds that the breed of the dog, in and of itself, is not necessarily determinative of liability.
If a plaintiff can show that a dog had vicious propensities, the owner is held strictly liable for any harm that the animal causes as a result of its vicious propensities. Collier v. Zambito 1 N.Y.3d 444, 447 (2004). Strict liability means that the owner would be at fault regardless of whether or not the owner was negligent in his or her care of the dog on the day of the attack.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of a dog bite, please contact our office for a free consultation.