Q: My daughter was bitten by a neighborhood dog, can I sue?
A: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year, and one in five dog bite injuries require medical attention. In New York City, there were over 3600 dog bite cases reported in 2010. In fact, dog bites are such a prevalent problem nationwide that The Insurance Information Institute estimated that nearly $479 million in dog bite claims were paid by all insurance companies in 2011.
Many dog bite cases involve breeds such as pit bulls and rottweilers. In New York if you or your child is bitten by a dog, in order to recover, you must prove that the dog had “prior vicious propensities”. Evidence tending to demonstrate a dog's vicious propensities includes a prior attack, the dog's tendency to growl, snap, or bare its teeth, the manner in which the dog was restrained, the fact that the dog was kept as a guard dog, and a proclivity to act in a way that puts others at risk of harm.
Victims of dog bites often have serious injuries to their face and limbs, yet many of them cannot recover under New York State law. Currently, the victim of an attack can only recover if he proves the dog is vicious and that the owner knew of the dog's vicious propensities. Victims of these attacks often need stitches, vaccinations and re-constructive surgeries; therefore, it is only fair that the owner of the animal compensate the victim for these expenses. A bill is pending in the New York State Senate (S1191) which would make owners of dogs who bite and injure another person strictly liable for the medical expenses of the injured person. In order to receive compensation above and beyond medical expenses (such as for pain and suffering or lost wages) the injured party would still have to prove that the dog had “dangerous or vicious propensities” and that the owner had knowledge of such propensities.
However, New York Senate Bill S1191, which has been pending for 2 years, is still inadequate. New York state law should provide strict liability for all damages suffered by victims of pit bull and other dog bite attacks, including pain and suffering and lost wages, not only for medical expenses.
If you are bitten or attacked by a dog (or other animal) and the animal’s owner knew or should have known about the animal’s vicious propensities, you may have a case against the owner and should contact an attorney immediately.