Tuesday, July 7, 2015

NY Court of Appeals reaffirms rule that immunizes dog owners for injuries caused by their negligence in handling their dogs

Eric Turkewitz, of The New York Personal Injury Law Blog, has a very interesting post on a recent decision by the NY Court of Appeals (the highest court in the state) on a topic I have written about in the past - the possible liability of a dog owner.

The facts of the case are relatively simple.  The defendant allowed his dog to run around in Central Park, and later called it to come back.  The dog bolted across the road exactly as commanded but unfortunately into the path of a bicyclist who suffered an injury as a result.  The plaintiff sued the dog owner for negligence.  Simple enough: the owner was negligent in either allowing the dog to run unleashed or in the way he called it back without taking precautions, and caused an injury as a result.

Prima facie case, right?   Not so in New York, where courts, for some reason, do not recognize causes of action for negligence in cases of injuries caused by pets, although they do in cases of injuries caused by other animals.

Instead of recognizing how illogical the current state of affairs is, however, the court reaffirmed its position and decided to continue to adhere to a rule that essentially provides immunity to dog owners who cause injury with their negligent handling of their animals.

The case is Doerr v. Goldsmith  and it is available here.  In his post, Turkewitz briefly comments on the concurring opinion and one of the dissenting opinions and I agree with him entirely.  The concurring opinion's reasoning is unpersuasive and the dissenting opinions are much more reasonable, logical and consistent with basic principles of tort law.  As Chief Judge Lippman, in dissent, points out, the position taken by the court, "serve[s] only to immunize defendant from the consequences of her own negligent actions, for no reason other than that a dog happened to be involved in the accident."

Also, as pointed out by Judge Fahey, who also dissented, "We should return to the basic principle that the owner of an animal may be liable for failure to exercise the standard of care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised in a similar situation."

I agree.

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