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New York Personal Injury Attorneys

An Owner’s Liability For The Acts Of Its Dog

September 10, 2019 in

An owner of a dog who knows, or has reason to know, that his or her animal has a vicious

disposition or a vicious propensity will be strictly liable for injuries or property damage caused

by its animal. The term “vicious disposition” includes not only “biting”, but also the jumping up

and on to people, the showing of teeth, growling and pulling at a chain when tied up. The term

“vicious propensity” means a natural inclination or habitual tendency to act in a manner that

might endanger the person or property of others.


Responsibility for vicious animal attacks can also extend to a landlord where he knowingly

allows a tenant to keep a vicious animal on his premises and where the landlord fails to take any

steps to protect others living in his building from attack.

And the owner of a vicious dog will also be liable for a victim’s injuries suffered in attempting

to avoid an attack, such as where the victim is struck by an automobile, or falls down, attempting

to evade or run from an attacking dog.


It has been held that a dog’s running around and barking is “normal canine behavior” and that

such activity does not put the dog’s owner on notice that it’s dog has a vicious disposition or

tendencies. But a prior bite that the owner knows about, or was told about, does establish the

vicious nature of his or her dog, and the owner will be strictly liable to the next victim who the

dog injures. That is not to say that the victim of the first bite can not hold the dog’s owner strictly

liable for his or her injuries, for where it can be shown prior to the first bite that a dog’s owner

knew that his or her dog growled, snapped or bared its teeth, or that the owner kept the dog as a

guard dog, or that the dog had a tendency to rise up and greet people, such factors may give rise

to an inference that the dog’s owner had knowledge, or had reason to know, that his or her dog

had vicious propensities.


The breed of a dog, standing alone, is insufficient to establish that the dog must naturally have

vicious propensities. So where it can be shown that a Pit Bull, or a German Sheppard, or a

Rottweiler was kept as a family pet and not as a trained guard dog or watch dog, its owner will

not be strictly liable if the dog bites someone, or knocks someone down, unless it can also be

shown that the owner knew, or had reason to know, that the dog had a vicious disposition or

vicious propensity.

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