How Does a Bite Victim Prove a Dog’s “Vicious Propensity” Under New York Law?

In New York, the owner of a dog considered dangerous is strictly liable for a victim’s medical costs for injuries suffered in an unprovoked attack. In addition, if the owner knew or should have known that the dog had a vicious propensity, the victim may recover other damages, including pain and suffering. But sustaining that claim can be difficult, since the burden of proof is on the victim.

Under New York’s dog bite statute, a dog is considered "dangerous” if, without justification, it either attacks and injures a person or animal or behaves in a way that a reasonable person would believe poses a serious and imminent threat of serious physical injury. This triggers strict liability for an unprovoked attack regardless of whether or not the owner knew of the dog’s dangerous nature. But proving the dog was known to have a “vicious propensity” is more complicated, especially since that term is not defined in the statute.

Even a dog that is not normally ferocious may show signs of a potential to act in a way that puts others at risk of harm. Among the types of evidence that may be used to prove a dog’s vicious propensity are:

  • Evidence showing that the dog was previously known to make aggressive moves such as growling, snapping or baring its teeth
  • A known pattern of behavior by the dog that could put others at harm — for example, regularly jumping on people with enough force to knock a person over
  • Evidence that the owner chose to restrain or confine the dog in a way that indicates the owner’s knowledge of the dog’s danger to others
  • Documentation that the dog previously attacked a person without justification, and that the attack caused serious physical injury or death
  • Records showing the severity of previous injuries caused by the dog

Note that the owner’s knowledge of the vicious propensity must also be proved in a dog bite case. Even if the owner denies knowledge, liability can be established by objective evidence that he or she reasonably should have known. However, merely posting a “beware of dog” sign or keeping the dog chained on the owner’s property is not enough to prove such knowledge.

The personal injury attorneys at Orak & Associates, PC in Pearl River, New York represent victims of dog attacks in Rockland County, New York City and Northern New Jersey. To schedule a free initial consultation, call 917-216-8819 or contact us online.

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