There Is No Cause of Action for “Negligent Handling” of a Dog in New York
The Court of Appeals, in a memorandum decision addressing two dog-related personal injury cases, with two concurring opinions, and over three dissenting opinions, kept New York law as it was with respect to the available causes of action for injuries caused by dogs. Negligence theories are not available, and a strict liability theory requires proof the dog-owners were aware of the dog’s propensity to cause injury. In one case (Doerr v Goldsmith) the dog was called by one of its owners and ran across a bike path where plaintiff, a bicyclist, struck the dog and was injured. In the other case (Dobinski v Lockhart), dogs were let out of the owners’ house and ran into the road where plaintiff-bicyclist struck one of the dogs and was injured. The court kept the existing distinction between domestic pets and farm animals. The owner of a farm animal which wanders off the farm and causes injury may be liable for negligently allowing the farm animal to escape. The same theory of owner-negligence was not extended to domestic animals (dogs here). The dog owners who allowed their dog to run across a bike path in response to a command could not be held liable for negligence in handling the dog. And the dog owners whose dogs ran into the road after being let outside could not be liable for negligently handling the dogs and could not held strictly liable in the absence of proof they were aware of the dogs’ relevant propensity:
Under the circumstances of these cases and in light of the arguments advanced by the parties, Bard v Jahnke (6 NY3d 592 ) constrains us to reject plaintiffs’ negligence causes of action against defendants arising from injuries caused by defendants’ dogs … . We decline to overrule our recently reaffirmed precedent (see Bloomer, 21 NY3d at 918; Petrone, 12 NY3d at 547-555). Furthermore, our holding in Hastings v Sauve (21 NY3d 122 ) does not allow plaintiffs to recover based on defendants’ purported negligence in the handling of their dogs, which were not domestic farm animals subject to an owner’s duty to prevent such animals from wandering unsupervised off the farm (see Hastings, 21 NY3d at 124-126).
[In Dobinski v Lockhart] the Appellate Division properly granted summary judgment to defendants with respect to plaintiff’s strict liability cause of action. Defendants carried their initial burden on summary judgment of establishing that they did not know of any vicious propensities on the part of their dogs. In response, plaintiff failed to demonstrate the existence of a triable issue of fact as to whether defendants had notice of the animals’ harmful proclivities, and consequently, defendants were entitled to summary judgment on plaintiff’s strict liability claim … . Doerr v Goldsmith, 2015 NY Slip Op 04752, CtApp 6-9-15