It is often said that New York law allows dogs one free bite. It is more accurate to state, however, that an owner will be liable for injuries caused by a domestic animal if he or she knows or should have known of the animal’s vicious propensities if the injuries resulted from those propensities. Although the courts have traditionally used the term “vicious propensities,” in Waldman v. Sangiray, the Supreme Court in Nassau County clarified that the word “vicious” might not be the most accurate term to explain the rule.
The plaintiff was 82 years old at the time of the incident. While her three-year-old grandson and she were walking around her neighborhood, the child stepped onto the defendant’s property. The plaintiff said she also stepped onto the property to pull the child from the grass. She said she did not recall hearing any barking or growling before the defendant’s Siberian Husky came up to her and “hit” her. She alleged the dog put his paws on her shoulders, knocking her to the ground. She alleged the dog “kept hitting her” when she tried to roll over. She said the dog rolled her onto her back. The incident lasted for an hour. The plaintiff said the dog bit her at one point during the encounter. She was only able to escape with the help of a passerby and the defendant’s son. The plaintiff alleged that she suffered several injuries, including cuts on her face and ruptured and lacerated tendons in her hand and wrist. The plaintiff filed suit against the dog owner, and the defendant moved for summary judgment.
The defendant generally kept the dog outside, where he was contained by an electronic fence. There was no evidence that the dog was violent or had ever bitten anyone, or even growled or bared his teeth. There was evidence, however, that the dog tended to jump on its owners to greet them. The defendant testified that he never saw the dog jump on strangers, but the dog did jump on the defendant’s in-laws. There was no evidence presented that the dog had ever knocked anyone else down.