It's a crisp Saturday morning at Nickerson Beach. The waves are crashing and the sun is shining as you stroll along, enjoying the joys and wonders of living in the Long Island area. Suddenly, you come upon what appears to be a friendly dog. You approach the pooch to see if he has a name tag. Just as you reach down to look at his collar, he bares teeth, growls and bites your arm. Finally, the owner comes running up, arms flailing and apologizing profusely. Now what?
A dog bite can be extremely dangerous, especially to young children or the elderly. Long Island dog owners are responsible to keep their animals under control. In some cases, if a dog attacks another person, the owner is responsible for that attack. Here's some information for you to consider about Long Island dog bite cases.
What to Do First if You are Bitten by a Dog
Get prompt medical treatment. Don't wait. Call 911 or go to your nearest hospital. Animal bites are very serious and can result in permanent scarring, nerve damage, lasting psychological trauma, or even death.
When you are ready, get all the records regarding your attack, including animal control records, medical records, police reports, and any other records/reports regarding what happened. Take pictures of any injury, torn clothes, and damaged personal property. It is easier to show a picture of an injury than to describe it verbally. Be sure to get any witness contact information.
Should I report a dog bite?
Yes, right away. In Suffolk County, report the dog bite to Suffolk County S.P.C.A. In Nassau County, contact the Nassau County S.P.C.A. They'll investigate the incident and write a report. You may also want to contact your local police department.
What is the law in Long Island regarding dog bites?
New York is, with some limits, a "one bite free" state. We'll talk about that more below. State law requires dog owners to use reasonable care to prevent an animal from causing injuries. If the animal has a propensity for being aggressive, the owner may be automatically liable for injuries caused by the animal.
Basically, if an owner knew or should have known that the dog in question had a vicious or dangerous temperament, and this led to a dog attack, or if a "dangerous dog" attacks someone; the owner can be sued and possibly sent to jail.
When is a Dog Considered "Dangerous?"
If an animal control agency or judge has previously declared the dog "dangerous," or if the dog has made previous, unprovoked attacks that caused any injuries.
For example, if a dog has a history of lunging at people, or often growls and snaps at people who come near, the dog wears a muzzle, or if the owner often tells people his dog is an attack dog.
New York's "One Bite Rule"
New York state has a controversial law on its books called the "One Bite Law." Under the law, an owner doesn't face any civil repercussions if it's the first time their dog bit someone, unless the dog is considered "dangerous" as defined by law.
Many times it's difficult to know whether a dog has a history of biting. Check with a local animal control officer may to see if there are any prior reports. However, many of these incidents go unreported. Consider talking to neighbors or the area mail carrier to see what their experiences have been with the dog. FindLaw has put together some tips on proving dog bite claims.
What Damages Can I Recover?
Most New York dog owners are only be liable for medical damages, such as medical bills. The problem here is that many dog bite victims suffer more than just out-of-pocket expenses. For damages outside the realm of physical injury, a victim must prove that the dog had a tendency to bite and that the owner was aware of it -- as discussed above.
In a case of "serious injury," the owner could be convicted of a misdemeanor. A "serious injury" is one that causes death or presents the risk of death,or causes "serious or protracted" disfigurement, "protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ."
Is there a time limit to file my dog bite lawsuit?
Yes, it's called a "statute of limitations." That means in New York you have three years from the date of the incident to file your lawsuit. Don't wait or you may be out of luck. The time limit is longer for minors and persons considered "mentally incompetent."
If you or someone you know has suffered a serious injury because of a dog bite or attack, consider speaking to a qualified legal professional or your local legal aid provider and learn more about what your options are in Long Island.
Contact a qualified attorney.