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Dog Bites and New York State Law

August 28, 2018

dog bites new york state lawBelieve it or not, the Insurance Information Institute found that over one-third of all homeowners liability claims in the U. S. in 2015 were from dog bites. And the cost per claim averaged more than $37,000 per bite. That’s over $570 million in damages paid!

In New York State, the average cost per claim in 2015 was $44,320 for 880 claims. The high cost per claim includes not just dog bites, which can cause serious injury. Dogs knock down children, cyclists, and the elderly causing broken bones and blunt force trauma injuries.

So what is the law in New York State regarding your responsibility as a dog owner? New York is one of the few states that uses the modified one-bite rule. Based on common law, the rule states that an owner isn’t liable for dog bite injuries if his/her dog has never bitten anyone before.

However, the law does apply a strict liability standard to medical bills. That means the owner is automatically responsible for an injured person’s medical bills. But a plaintiff must establish that you, the owner, knew your dog was dangerous to collect pain and suffering damages. In legal terms, it’s called scienter, or knowledge.

How does the injured person prove you knew your dog was dangerous? One way is to argue a dangerous breed. People often think that German shepherds, pit bull types, Rottweilers, Doberman pinchers and others are naturally dangerous. But studies show that there’s more to it than just the breed. Training, how owners treat their dogs, and sex/neutering are also factors.

Obviously, if the injured person can prove the dog has bitten someone before, the owner would have knowledge. Also if the dog is muzzled or on a short leash, that could indicate the owner knew the dog was dangerous.

In any event, there are no exclusions on your homeowners insurance policy for your liability if your dog bites someone. Or injures them in any way. However, the injured party must prove you negligent to get a pain and suffering settlement.

But we always recommend that you do everything you can to avoid a lawsuit or claim. Train your dog in social skills. Don’t leave your dog with visiting children unsupervised. Same with elderly guests. A dog doesn’t have to bite to cause injury. Knocking an older person over could easily cause broken bones that are far more serious than a bite.

The upshot: be good to your dog and train it to be gentle around people. If you notice any violent behavior, see a specialist such as an animal trainer, a vet, or breeder who knows your type dog. Get their advice as to eliminating aggressive and undesirable behaviors.

Enjoy your pet safely!

Until next time,
Your SZW Team

SZW Insurance is your Utica area Trusted Choice™ independent insurance agent. Call us for a quote on insurance for your home, car, business, or life at 315.792.0000. Or request a quote here.