Case Update: Dog Owner Liability

As we’ve previously discussed in this blog, in order to find an animal owner liable for the actions of that animal, as in the case of a dog bite, the animal must have “vicious propensities,” meaning a history of biting or aggression.  However, a recent case from the New York City creates a new exception to that rule.

In Doerr v. Goldsmith (2013 NY Slip Op 06442), the plaintiff, Mr. Doerr, was riding his bicycle on the Central Park Loop Road.  While riding down the road Mr. Doerr happened upon a man and a woman, each standing on either side of the road.  The man was holding a dog and the woman was bent down and clapping her hands on her thighs in the way one would if they were calling a dog.  Realizing what was about to happen, Mr. Doerr yelled out “Watch your dog!” but was unable to avoid the animal as it ran into the middle of the road.   Mr. Doerr struck the dog and was thrown from his bicycle, suffering a serious injury.

Under the old rule, unless this dog had a history of violence, such as aggressively chasing bicyclists and biting, Mr. Doerr would have had no claim for dog liability.  But under this new rule, the court held that because the woman who owned the dog encouraged it to run into the road by clapping her hands, it was actually her actions, not the dogs, that caused the accident.  The dog, in this situation, was merely “the instrument of harm,” in the same way a downed tree or a stalled car in the road might be.

At Segar & Sciortino, we have years of experience handling all kinds of accident lawsuits.  If you have questions about an accident you suffered, give us a call.