The law sets certain protections for the victim of a dog bite or other animal attack. However, the law also sets certain burdens on the victim.
I. Dogs and Cats
In order to recover, the injured person must show that the dog or animal was vicious and that this vicious propensity was shown in prior attacks. By proving this, the owner would have been on notice that the dog was vicious and dangerous and that the dog should have been removed from the household.
A dog who has a history of merely snapping or barking or being frisky does not satisfy this requirement. Typically, one must prove that the dog bit or attacked someone else in the past. One way of showing this is citation against the owner for a dog attack.
The fact that the dog is from a breed known to be violent is not sufficient to prove that this dog had a vicious propensity. For example, a pit bull is not automatically dangerous merely for being a pit bull. Therefore, the pit bull is on equal standing with the lovable and friendly golden retriever. The law gives the domestic dog the benefit of the doubt. The injured person has the burden of proof.
We have had cases where we could prove that the dog attacked other people in the past. In one case, the dog had bitten the client in the past, nevertheless, the owner kept this dangerous animal.
The same rules apply to cats. There are few, reported cat injuries. However, we had a case where a “house sitter” was bitten by the house cat. The client had to undergo rabies shots and was hospitalized due to complications and infection. There is some developing law which could make an owner responsible for a high-spirited dog that causes injury.
II. Farm and Other Domestic Animals
The same rule applies to farm animals. The injured party must prove that the animal exhibited vicious propensities before the attack. A good example is a bull which injures the client but had never injured or charged at anyone before.
In a recent, interesting case, New York’s highest court ruled on an accident involving a cow. Plaintiff was injured when her van struck a cow that wandered onto the public road. The evidence indicated that the farm’s fence was in poor repair, and the cow slipped through the fence. Initially, the Appellate Division dismissed the case because there was no proof that the cow had violent propensities or a propensity to wander.
However, the Court of Appeals reinstated the case on the basis that the injury was not caused by a violent animal attack. Instead, the injury was caused by the cow’s owner’s negligence in failing to fence-in the animal. The owner has the duty to fence-in the cow. However, the Court noted that it was not ruling whether an owner would be liable for failing to fence-in a dog or cat. See Hastings v. Sauve, 21 NY2d 122 (2016).
III. Wild Animals
In the rare instance of an attack by a wild animal, the owner will be strictly liable for injuries. This means that the injured party does not have to prove that the animal had prior, vicious propensities. It is assumed that a wild animal would be violent. The owner will be liable for unwisely keeping a wild animal in captivity. Fortunately, these incidents are rare. Most people who keep wild and exotic animals live in rural areas where they cannot be detected.
The most terrible example of a wild animal injury is the 2009 savage chimpanzee attack in Connecticut. The 200-pound primate was kept as a pet by a woman, and the chimpwent berserk. The owner called her friend to help, and the chimp mauled and almost killed the neighbor. The animal’s owner would be strictly liable for the attack.
The same would pertain to other wild and exotic animals, such as tigers, wolves, and mixed breed animals such as mixed breed of wolf and dog.
New York City prohibits the ownership of dangerous animals, such as a primates and tigers and wolves. There was an attempt to legalize ferret ownership, but it failed. Ferrets cannot be owned within the City.
In the rare instance an animal escapes from a zoo, the zoo would be responsible without a showing of fault.