It was a gorgeous Saturday and you were enjoying a picnic with the family at Downing Park. Although you tried to get your toddler interested in eating his grapes, he was much more intrigued by the two barking Dachshunds nearby and decided to go get a closer look. You followed right behind and when he got relatively close, swept in to pick him up. Unfortunately, right when you put your arm out, one of the dogs jumped up and bit you, breaking the skin. What do you do now? What can you expect? Here is some basic information to help you navigate a dog bite case in Newburgh.
For a general overview, you may wish to first check out the FindLaw section on Dog Bites and Animal Attacks. Then return here for some information specific to Orange County.
The first thing to do after a dog bite is to clean the wound thoroughly with soap and water and get any needed medical attention. Before leaving the scene, however, make sure that you or someone on your behalf collects information about the dog and its owner. Get the name and contact information of the owner and any witnesses and jot down the breed, size and color of the dog. You may also wish to take photographs of the injury, the dog and the scene.
Who Is Responsible?
Some states have strict liability "dog bite laws" that make owners responsible for the damages suffered by people their dog bites, regardless of whether the dog had previously acted viciously or whether the owner knew about such viciousness.
In New York, however, in order to impose liability on the owner, you must show that the dog had "vicious propensities" and that the owner knew or should have known of them.
What Are Vicious Propensities and How Do You Prove Them?
Vicious propensities have been defined by New York as the propensity (tendency) to do any act that might endanger the safety of the persons and property of others in a given situation. Some of the factors that are often used to show that a dog had such propensities include:
None of these factors standing alone will necessarily establish vicious propensities - the facts of your specific case will be highly relevant. If it is proven (typically through testimony of the owner, victim, neighbors, delivery people, veterinarians, animal control, etc.) that the dog had vicious propensities and the owner had knowledge (or should have had knowledge) of them, the owner could be on the hook for damages caused by their vicious dog.
Civil Penalties on Dog Owners
Regardless of whether the dog is shown to have vicious propensities or not, civil fines do apply when a dog owner has negligently permitted his dog to bite and cause physical injury. For a basic physical injury, the fine cannot exceed $400. For serious physical injury, the fine cannot exceed $1,500 and can be reduced by any amount that is paid in restitution by the owner to the bite victim for medical expenses, lost wages and other damages.
Dangerous Dog Law
In addition to the "vicious propensities" cause of action described above, you may also seek to have the dog that bit you declared as "dangerous." Under New York's Dangerous Dog law, any person who witnesses an attack (or threatened attack) may make a report to a dog control officer or police officer of the local municipality (e.g., Newburgh Police Department).
Thereafter, the individual or officer may make a formal complaint to a municipal judge or justice who will determine whether there is probable cause to believe the dog is dangerous. If the judge determines that there is probable cause, the dog will be seized and held pending a hearing on the complaint.
If at the hearing it is established by clear and convincing evidence that the dog is a "dangerous dog," restrictions will be placed on the dog, which vary depending on the circumstances, but can include in certain circumstances putting the dog down through "humane euthanasia."
The owner of a "dangerous dog" is in most cases strictly liable for the medical costs associated with bites by his dog.
Moreover, if the owner of a "dangerous" dog negligently allows his dog to bite and cause serious physical injury or death, he is subject to criminal penalties, which can include fines, imprisonment or both.
Considerations When Bringing A Lawsuit Against the Dog Owner
In some cases, dog bite victims are reluctant to bring suit against dog owners because they are often friends, neighbors or family members and they don't want to put them in an uncomfortable financial position. In fact, however, many dog bite claims are covered by insurance.
If you decide to pursue legal action in Newburgh, depending on the damages you are seeking you will likely either file in Newburgh City Court ($15,000 or less) or Orange Supreme and County Court. Bear in mind that there are timeframes within which you must file a claim or have it forever barred ("Statutes of Limitations"). In Newburgh and the rest of the state you generally have three years to bring your personal injury action.
Depending on the extent of your injuries you may find it useful to consult with a Newburgh animal bite lawyer who can help you assess your case. Many attorneys will offer a free initial consultation and if you decide to work together will do so on a "contingency" basis where their fees come out of your recovery. For more information about how an attorney may be able to help you as well as sample forms and agreements, check out the FindLaw section on Using a Personal Injury Lawyer.
Contact a qualified attorney.