The Dog Bit Your Neighbor–Are You Legally Responsible?

The Law in New York regarding dog bites has been relatively unchanged for many years. In order to be found at fault if your dog bites someone, the key issue is whether you knew, or should have known, of the dog’s “vicious propensities.” Vicious propensities include the tendency to do any act which might endanger the safety of persons or property in a given situation.

Examples of vicious propensities include a previous bite first and foremost, but would also include growling, chasing, lunging at, snapping, or baring of teeth. Although there is a widespread belief that owners are entitled to “one free bite”, by which they are not responsible until their dog has bitten someone on two occasions, this is not the law in New York. Simply put, a prior bite is not required to prove “vicious propensities.” Further, although a jury might be more inclined to believe this, there is no specific provision of the law by which dogs such as pit bulls or German Shepards are automatically considered more dangerous.

The key factor is the owner’s knowledge concerning the likelihood that his or her dog might harm another person.

Conversely, an owner who can show that his or her dog regularly interacted with people and other pets without incident, and was allowed free reign of the premises without being restrained, is likely to not be held legally responsible if there were no prior aggressive incidents.