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Does my dog (or I) have any liability?

Discussion in 'Accidents, Injuries, Negligence' started by Tollerowner, Nov 29, 2022.

  1. Tollerowner

    Tollerowner Law Topic Starter New Member

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    Jurisdiction:
    New York
    My dog and I are walking in the woods off leash. We rarely see another dog there, but when we do, the etiquette is to put your dog on a leash; that almost always works.
    My dog is about 3' from me when a woman and a tiny dog appear about 200' away. The dog sprints at us; the woman tried to call him back, but he ignores her. I didn't leash my dog because having one dog leashed during a confrontation just makes it worse because they are handicapped in protecting themselves and get more reactive. My dog just stands there and watches him, until he tries to jump on her. Then she defends herself. She is 4 times his size and he is whining in terror. It took me about three seconds to call her off, and he ran back to the woman. I don't know if he was hurt because the woman picked him up and ran off in the other direction without saying anything. (an apology would have been nice...), but she has never bitten another dog and I am reasonably certain she didn't this time either.
    But what if she had hurt him?
    Admittedly she wasn't on a leash, but if she had been it wouldn't have been any different. If fact it might have been worse because being on leash would have made her more reactive. I had complete control over her the entire time; she was never more than 3 feet away and got off him as soon as I told her to. (there is no command for "don't defend yourself when a dog attacks you" so her actions couldn't be stopped. :rolleyes:)
    So, would I have been liable for any injuries? Sure, I know the woman would have lied about what actually happened, but disregarding that...
     
  2. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    Sorry, but that's just a rationalization for not leashing your dog. It's not a defense to liability for injuries to another animal or person.

    Dog liability is complex. There are many laws and legal doctrines that can make a dog owner liable in ways that defy logic.

    The following site will give you an idea. The fellow has written comprehensive articles on the dog liability issues in every state.

    New York Dog Bite Law

    That your dog was "attacked" may absolve you of liability. That your dog was off leash might not.

    As unfair as it may seem, an uninjured big dog is likely to held responsible for injuries to a little dog, even if the little dog was the aggressor. Especially in the absence of unbiased witnesses.

    My advice: Never walk your dog off leash and always carry mace or pepper spray (whatever is legal in NY) in case another animal approaches in a hostile manner.

    It only takes a split second for ANY dog to revert to its prehistoric instincts. That split second that you are not in control of your dog could end up costing you a lot of money and possibly the life of your dog.

    I have a Pit Bull. I'm not taking any chances. Nor should you, no matter what kind of dog you have.
     
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  3. zddoodah

    zddoodah Well-Known Member

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    If it's a "tiny dog" that is a quarter of the size of your dog and is coming from 200 feet away, you have plenty of time to leash your song and take steps to ensure that the "tiny dog" never gets near your dog. You also have plenty of time to get your phone open so you can take video so there's no issue about what happens.

    I don't care to speculate about liability in a vaguely described hypothetical situation, but I will tell you that only human beings can be held liable.
     
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  4. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    Even if the court were to side with whatever story she came up with the problem she would have in most states is that the measure of damages is generally the lesser of the vet expenses for the dog's injuries or the value of the dog. That's because it has long been the case in the common law that dogs and other domesticated animals are regarded as property, akin to a chair or TV set. As far as I can tell from a quick search of NY law NY still holds that longstanding view. The sentimental value of the pet doesn't translate to damages in a civil case in any event. Other than some show dogs or dogs with something special that would give them a high value she wouldn't get much because most dogs don't have much market value; shelters practically beg people to take dogs that they have. Consult a NY attorney familiar with that state's cases on similar situations for an evaluation of what liability you would have.

    However, even if you weren't liable for much in civil damages to the other dog owner, you might find that you face fines or possible destruction of your dog if a court were to find that your dog was a danger to others. You may also face fines if your city/county has a leash law and you fail to comply with that law.
     
  5. Tollerowner

    Tollerowner Law Topic Starter New Member

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    A well regarded behaviorist advised me to drop my leash if another dog comes at mine as being on a leash makes them panic. Unless she is wrong, it is not rationalization.

    Your link to the dog bite law says that breaking a town or county law is simply evidence of negligence, not automatic negligence. I looked it up and NYS has no leash law, it is local.
    I have to think that the fact that being on a leash wouldn't have prevented the incident dispels the negligence; but who know what some part time judge will decide..
     
  6. adjusterjack

    adjusterjack Super Moderator

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    Far be it from me to argue with a "well regarded behaviorist."

    ;)
     
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  7. Tax Counsel

    Tax Counsel Well-Known Member

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    What makes you sure the case would be heard by a "part time judge"? If you were sued for serious money, it would actually be a jury deciding the case, not the judge. And if it is a bench trial (a case tried to a judge rather than a jury) most judges in NY, whether part-time or full-time have to be lawyers, with the exception of town and village courts, and those courts only handle civil cases up to $3,000. So in most courts the judges will be well familiar with the law. Most people, whether judges or jurors, are going to believe that being on a leash allows you better control of your dog. Frankly, unless the dog is extremely well trained, that is in fact going to be the case. It would, for example, make it easier for you to pull your dog back if it were the attacker. If you can satisfy the judge/jury that the little dog was the attacker and not on a leash then you might get a pass on not having your dog leashed. But I wouldn't count on that.
     

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