Dog and Other Animal Bites.

Believe it or not, an estimated 5 million people per year suffer from dog or other animal bites in this Country. If you are a dog lover, as I am, it is hard to believe that your trusty canine companion can be tempted to “go postal” on someone yet even tame dogs with no prior history of viciousness can suddenly feel threatened and strike out. There is no apparent common denominator for this phenomenon either. One might think that this can and would only occur if someone without much sense or perhaps someone who is too young to know any better, gets too close to the hungry pooch’s dinner. While this might be true in certain instances, it is not always the case.

I have handled dozens of dog and animal bite cases over the years (yes even ferrets will bite) and in almost every instance, the bite was unexpected. Obviously this is because in most cases, a dog owner will not knowingly expose the public to a vicious animal without some sort of warning. So the vast majority of cases occur when a dog who has never bitten before suddenly bites. Many people think that the law “allows one free bite”, but this is not exactly the case.

The law requires the bite victim to prove that the dog owner knew or should have known that the animal had “prior vicious propensities”. This does not necessarily mean that the animal has bitten before although that would be the strongest type of evidence to show that a dog owner knew or should have known that the dog was vicious.

The Courts also take into consideration other dog behaviors such as growling, snarling, territoriality, jumping, antisocial behavior, whether the dog was frequently muzzled or whether there was a “beware of dog sign” on the property. None of these facts on its own would be enough to sustain a dog bite case, but the totality of evidence gathered by investigation will be considered by a Court to determine whether the victim can successfully bring a case. When we take a dog bite case, we usually dispatch an investigator to go to the neighborhood and ask around about the dog’s reputation for any of the above behaviors.

The victim need not be bitten by the dog either. The victim can be scratched, or even pulled or pushed to the ground. But the victim still has to prove that the owner knew about the dog’s prior behavior.

Because many of these cases involve children, there is often a great deal of emotion involved in bringing these cases. The parents are mortified that their child may be permanently scarred. Often though, the case is not fully “mature” until at least a year has passed. That is usually the time during which the doctor can evaluate the permanency of the scarring. Cases involving children, or infants as the State of New York refers to them until they reach the age of 18, must receive Court approval before any settlement talks can be entered into. The case must be reviewed by a Supreme Court Judge even if the parents wish to accept the settlement offer and if the Court rejects the offer, the case will not settle at that time. And if the case does settle, New York law dictates that any settlements involving “infants” be deposited in a trust account for the child until they reach the age of 18.

If you have any questions about a dog or animal bite case out on Long Island, please call us to discuss it. We will be happy to evaluate your case free of charge.