For dog owners in New York, and those of us that live around them, understanding the legal landscape surrounding dog bites is crucial. Contrary to the myth of a “one free bite” rule, where a dog faces no consequences for its first bite, the reality is more nuanced than may be shown on daytime court television.
New York’s hybrid approach
Unlike some states with strict liability laws holding owners automatically responsible for dog-related injuries, New York adopts a hybrid model. This model combines strict liability for medical costs resulting from a dog bite and negligence for other damages.
Strict liability for medical costs
For medical bills stemming from a dog bite, owners or custodians bear strict liability, irrespective of their actions to control the dog. The victim does not need to prove the owner’s knowledge of the dog’s dangerous propensities or a history of biting. The sole requirement is establishing the dog’s involvement in causing the injury, making the owner or custodian responsible for covering medical expenses.
Negligence for additional damages and the one-bite rule
When it comes to non-medical damages like pain and suffering, lost wages, property damage, etc. New York follows a negligence principle. Owners are held responsible if they fail to exercise reasonable care in controlling the dog or warning others about potential risks.
Commonly known as the one-bite rule, this negligence concept expects owners aware of their dog’s aggressive history to take appropriate precautions. To recover damages beyond medical bills, proving negligence becomes essential.
Establishing one-bite negligence
To establish negligence, the victim must demonstrate the owner’s knowledge or should-have-known awareness of the dog’s vicious tendencies or prior biting incidents. It must also be shown that the owner’s failure to take reasonable steps to prevent the dog from biting or to alert others to the potential danger. Finally, it must be shown that the victim’s lawful presence on the premises where the bite occurred, the absence of provocation and the injuries and damages were a direct consequence of the bite.
Contrary to popular belief, the “one free bite” rule does not grant absolute immunity to owners for their dog’s initial bite. Rather, it implies that an owner may not be held liable for damages beyond medical costs if they had no prior knowledge of the dog’s dangerous tendencies. And, in New York, dog owners and custodians bear strict liability for medical costs resulting from dog bites.