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Animal Liability & New York's Dog Bite Law

For more information, please contact The Ahearne Law Firm, PLLCat (845) 763-4100 for an initial consultation and case evaluation.

As mentioned in our May 25th blog post (United States Remains World’s Largest Liability Market), a recent report by Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) stated that the United States continues to be the world’s largest liability market and the potential for more expensive liability losses is increasing. Interestingly, nearly 2% of claims analyzed involved animals. Liability losses can range from everyday occurrences to the major disaster events that make global headlines.

Deer incidents, particularly involving collisions with cars, account for 58% of animal-related liability claims and cost in excess of $4,225per incident. When an American Airlines flight bound for Mississippi from Charlotte declared an emergency after colliding with a deer during take-off in February 2017, it provided further evidence of why deer can be particularly dangerous animals for both members of the public and insurers. The peak period for incidents (and claims) in the United States is during October and November – otherwise known as the rutting season, when deer are engaging in fierce mating battles.

Bedbug and insect incidentsaccount for almost 30 percent of animal-related liability claims received by insurers, with the number of bedbug incidents on the rise. According to the Bedbug Registry, a nationwide database of bedbug reports and complaints, bedbug sightings in New York hotels alone jumped more than 44% between 2014 and 2015,with a gradual increase in the number of related claims received over the past five years. While bed bugs are found year-round, infestations and incidents peak during the warmer months of the year (April to August).

Other unusual animal-related liability claims include one from a hotel guest whose room was invaded by a flying squirrel, another hotel guest whose hearing aid and slippers were destroyed by a rodent, and at least two members of the public having been attacked by aggressive peacocks. However, the common dog bite is still a costly injury. An estimated 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs annually with an average cost per claim of $33,230 according to the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm.

New York’s Dog Bite Law

Many believe that a dog is entitles to a “free bite” or “one bite.” However, this is not a belief that is supported by the law. Under New York’s dangerous dog statute, when the owner of a dog or another domestic animal, either knows or should have known that the animal has a vicious propensity, the owner is held liable for medical bills, monetary damages for pain and suffering, lost income, and any other expenses that are directly related to the injury suffered.

Vicious propensity refers to any act of the dog that would endanger the safety of another, animal, person or property. In some instances, the act of jumping can be considered a vicious propensity. If the owner knows or should have known of the dog’s vicious propensity, this becomes a case of strict liability based upon well-settled legal principle that one who keeps a dog with dangerous propensities introduces an unusual danger to the community without any positive counterbalance.

Even where there is care to prevent harm by a dog, the owner will still be liable for the injuries caused. Context of what happened leading to the instance of the injury is crucial. A dog that is provoked is not the same as a dog who has acted in a vicious manner previously. A known tendency to attack others, even in playfulness, as in the case of the overly friendly large dog with a propensity for enthusiastic jumping up on visitors, will be enough to make the defendant liable for resulting injuries.

Strict liability, also known as “absolute liability,” is liability incurred for causing damage or harm to life, limb, or property without the necessity of proving intent or negligence. Normally, when pursuing a legal action for liability, the plaintiff must generally prove that the defendant was somehow at fault, whether by negligence or direct fault, for the damages incurred by the plaintiff. The law, however, recognizes there are certain circumstances that are so inherently dangerous or hazardous, that there is no need for the plaintiff to prove direct fault or negligence. Fault in strict liability cases is not an issue. Therefore, proving that an injury or damages occurred, and that they occurred as a result of the plaintiff’s actions, becomes the focal point of any civil lawsuit for strict liability.

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