Bit by a dog? Can I sue the owner?

Animal bites can be serious, painful injuries that can leave lasting scars.  We all love our pets, but sometimes pets can do mean, vicious things.  The most common kind of animal bite comes from a dog.  The law in New York is relatively clear with regards to dog bite cases: You can only bring a lawsuit for a dog bite if the owner KNEW or should have known the dog was a danger.  To put in another way, you must prove that the dog “had vicious propensities.”

Let’s say you are at a friend’s house for a barbeque and their neighbor’s Doberman comes charging across the lawn and the dog bites you in the leg, causing serious injury and a painful, jagged scar.  Can you sue the dog’s owner?  In New York, the answer hinges on whether the dog had ever shown such aggressiveness before.  Proving that the dog had bitten someone else in the past would be clear evidence of vicious propensities, but in some cases proving that the dog was aggressive towards people in other circumstances, even without a bite, may be sufficient.  The key is to show that the owner knew the dog was a danger.  If the owner knew, they are strictly liable for any injury caused by the dog’s aggressiveness.

Dogs aren’t the only animals that can cause injury from bites.  Cats, horses, even goats can cause injuries to people when they become too aggressive.  The same general rule that applies to dog bites, namely that they have a history of vicious propensities, applies to all domesticated animals.  But what about “wild animals?”  Obviously, if you are attacked by a wild animal out in the wilderness there is no one to sue because wild animals generally don’t carry any insurance; but what if someone is keeping a wild animal as a pet?

Certain animals, no matter how sweet their disposition, are always considered wild: wolves, bears, mountain lions, even small animals like porcupines or groundhogs, are not safe to keep as pets.  If you are injured by a “wild” animal being kept as a pet there is no need to prove vicious propensities as it is assumed that all wild animals are, by their very nature, vicious.

If you or a loved one has suffered an injury from a dog bit or any animal bite, give us a call to discuss your options.