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Understanding the legal consequence from dog bites

Dog ownership is on the rise. According to Statista, in 2017, there were about 89.7 million dogs living as pets in U.S. households. 

Many owners view their dogs as part of the family. Unfortunately, not all owners train their dogs well, which can lead to problems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states nearly 1 in 5 people bitten by a dog need medical treatment. As dog ownership grows, so too may this problem.

Who is responsible for medical bills?

In New York, laws are complex regarding dog bites. If a dog bite occurs, the owner or legal custodian of the dog is responsible for the victim's medical costs. If another animal, like a pet or even a farm animal receives a bite from a dog, the owner is also liable for the veterinary bills. That does not mean owner has to pay all the bills on his or her own.

If the owner has homeowners or renters insurance, these policies usually cover dog bite liability. Typical policies have limits in the $100,000 to $300,000 range. Expenses that go over the limit are the responsibility of the owner.

To receive this type of compensation for medical bills, the injured party must prove the dog was dangerous, had a tendency to bite people and the owner knew about this tendency.

How does the court determine a "dangerous dog?"

If a dog attacked a person or another animal without provocation, the court could deem the animal a "dangerous dog." Additionally, a dangerous dog behaves in a way that poses an imminent threat of harm or death to another party. However, if the injured party acts in a manner that provokes the dog, this could be prevent the dog from the dangerous dog designation.

Can an owner face criminal penalties?

A dog owner could also face criminal penalties. There are criteria for such penalties. The court must find that the dog owner allowed his or her dog to bite someone. The dog has to be determined to be dangerous. The resulting injury must be serious, which means life-threatening, causing disfigurement or involving prolonged impairment or loss of function. If the court finds these criteria, the owner faces conviction for a misdemeanor, which may involve fines or jail time.

Can an injured party collect other damages?

If an injured party wants to collect other damages, the party needs to prove the dog had "vicious propensities." Prior bad acts, like previous bites, demonstrate vicious propensity. If a dog acts in a manner that puts people at risk for harm or death, the animal may have vicious propensity. However, simply displaying a sign that says "Beware of Dog" does not meet the standard for vicious propensity.

If their pet bites a person or another animal, New York dog owners face a variety of possible legal and financial ramifications.

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