Shelter’s Vague Warning about Dog’s Viciousness Deemed Sufficient Warning (NY)

It isn’t every day that the plaintiff in a dog bite case sues after being bitten by her own dog, but that is exactly what happened in Tiger v. North Shore Aminal LeagueIn Tighe, the plaintiff adopted a dog from her local shelter.  At the time, the shelter told her the dog could get a bit possessive about food.  But she soon discovered that food jealousy was the least of this dog’s problems.

When she took the dog home, she learned that it also had a habit of jumping into her fence when people passed by her yard and growled whenever it was feeding time.  She also learned a more painful lesson when dog bit her hand, prompting a hospital visit.  But it was only when the dog bit her in the face a few months later that the plaintiff sued the animal shelter.  As it turned out, the shelter never told the plaintiff that the dog had previously bitten someone in the face.

In the trial court, the shelter moved for summary judgment.  Although the lower court granted the shelter’s motion to dismiss for intentional infliction of emotional distress, it denied the shelter’s motion to dismiss the negligence and breach of warranty causes of action.

On appeal, the Second Department reversed.  Although the shelter failed to disclose the fact the dog previously bit someone in the face, the court held that the failure to specifically warn the plaintiff about face biting was not the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s action.  The court reasoned that under New York law, if the owner of a domestic animal delivers that animal to another, and warns that person of the animal’s vicious characteristics, the owner is not liable.

The lesson to be gleaned from Tighe is that warnings about an animal’s viciousness need not provide a laundry list of every one of the animal’s shortcomings.  It is sufficient to tell the other person the animal is really a beast. Thanks to Mike Gauvin for his contribution to this post.  Please email Brian Gibbons with any questions.