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January 2016 Animal Law Update

September 22, 2015 – The New York State Court of Appeals has held that an individual injured by a pet, other than a farm animal, may not institute a negligence cause of action against the owner of the animal based on improper supervision of the animal.  However, consistent with long standing precedent, if the domesticated animal shows evidence of a prior vicious propensity then the individual may institute a negligence cause of action (Dickson v. McCoy, 39 NY 400, 403 [opinion of Glover, J.]).  Vicious propensity has been defined as “any act that might endanger the safety of the persons and property of the others in a given situation, including behavior that is dangerous but not necessarily aggressive.”

In Doerr v. Goldsmith, Julie Smith and Daniel Goldsmith were playing with their dog in Central Park.  When they got to the bicycle loop, Smith crossed the road and Goldsmith waited on the other side holding the dog.  Meanwhile, Wolfgang Doerr was riding his bicycle in the loop.  Smith then bent down, clapped her hands, and called the dog over to her.  The dog started across the bicycle loop when Doerr hit the dog and was thrown from his bicycle and injured.  The Court of Appeals dismissed the complaint against Goldsmith because “New York does not recognize a common-law negligence cause of action to recover damages for injuries caused by a domestic animal” (Doerr v. Goldsmith, 2015 NY Slip Op 04752).  As such, Doerr could not recover against Goldsmith for her negligent handling of her dog.

In Dobinski v. Lockhart, Cheryl Dobinski and her husband were riding their bicycles on the shoulder of Route 98 in Franklinville, New York.  The Dubinski’s reached an area of the road that was 60 feet from the farm of George and Milagros Lockhart.  At the same time the Lockhart’s released their two German Shepherds onto their porch.  The two dogs barked and ran after the Dubinski’s.  Cheryl Dobinski struck one of the dogs and was thrown from her bicycle badly injuring herself.  The court dismissed the complaint against Lockhart.  Lockhart did not have actual notice of any vicious propensities on the part of their dogs.  Furthermore, Dobinski failed to demonstrate the existence of a triable issue of fact as to whether the defendant had constructive notice of the animals’ harmful proclivities (Dobinski v. Lockhart, 2014 NY Slip Op 06758).

The New York State Court of Appeals ruling maintains the holding in Bard v. Jahnke, 6 NY3d 592 [Ct App 2006] that “a landowner or the owner of an animal may be liable under ordinary tort-law principles when a farm animal is negligently allowed to stray from the property on which the animal is kept.”  However, at this time no such law is applicable to dogs, cats or other household pets.  The next negligence case that involves a dog or household pet may reverse Hastings v. Sauve 21 NY3d 122 and allow plaintiffs to recover based on the defendants’ purported negligence in the handling of their dogs or household pets.

By J.W. Cook