Consideration of Liability Under Dog Bite Statute Includes Charging and Growling (NY)

Although New York is a “one bite” state – meaning to recover upon a theory of strict liability in tort for a dog bite or attack, a plaintiff must prove that the dog had vicious propensities and that the owner of the dog . . . knew or should have known of such propensities” and vicious propensities include the propensity to do any act that might endanger the safety of the persons and property of others in a given situation. However, there are other actions that a dog might show that demonstrate “vicious propensities” without resorting to actual biting as shown below.

In Meka v. Pufpaff, plaintiff brought an action to recover damages for injuries allegedly sustained as a result of the vicious propensities of defendants’ dogs. Plaintiff was walking her dog, when defendants’ dogs approached them. According to plaintiff’s deposition testimony, one dog came toward her at a “full run” and began “biting” plaintiff’s dog’s neck. Plaintiff lost her balance, fell over one of the dogs, and dropped to the curb, fracturing her arm.

Both defendants and plaintiff moved for summary judgment and the lower court denied both motions. Both parties appealed the decision and the Appellate Division, Fourth Department upheld the lower court decision as to the vicarious liability portion of the complaint, but granted defendants’ motion for summary judgment as to negligence.

Defendants contended on their appeal that Supreme Court erred in denying their motion with respect to the strict liability cause of action because their dogs had not demonstrated vicious propensities prior to the subject incident. However, per the deposition testimony, the Court held that “a known tendency to attack others, even in playfulness, as in the case of the overly friendly large dog with a propensity for enthusiastic jumping up on visitors, will be enough to make the defendant[ ] liable for damages resulting from such an act.” There was deposition testimony of a neighbor, who testified that one day, when she was walking her dog past defendants’ house, defendants’ dogs growled and “came charging” at them, thus raising an issue of fact.

Finally, the Court held that a claim for ordinary negligence does not lie against the person responsible for a dog that causes injury and thus dismissed that portion of the plaintiff’s complaint.

Thanks to Paul Vitale for his contribution to this post.