On June 22, 2003, in lovely Bellport, which is a city in the County of Suffolk, New York on Sunbonnet Lane, a little two year old boy was playing at his Aunt’s house where the family had gone for a barbeque. The boy had been to his Aunt’s house numerous times before, and was well acquainted with her 100 pound Rottweiler dog named Neko. The boy’s Aunt had owned Neko since he was just six or seven weeks old. He had been given to her by her neighbor. Neko was known to be affectionate and sweet. He was an all-around family dog who had free rein of the house and fenced back yard.
On this day in June, the two year old boy was playing with his older cousins in the house when they decided to feed some dog treat bones to Neko. The toddler stated that he had been standing about six feet away from Neko tossing the dog bones to him when Neko growled and then lunged at him. Neko bit the toddler on the neck, throat, and chin. The force of the attack knocked the toddler down into a corner of the room, causing a cut to the back of the boy’s head. One of the older girls picked the toddler up and took him outside to the adults at the picnic.
The older child who had witnessed the attack stated that the toddler was feeding Neko dog biscuits and tried to take one away from him. Neko growled. She stated that she told the toddler to back off, but he instead reached out again to take the dog’s food. She stated that it was at that point that Neko jumped on the boy bitinghim on the throat and chin and pushing him down into the corner.
The Aunt stated that she had no knowledge of Neko having vicious tendencies. She stated that she had owned the dog his whole life and had never seen him do more than growl on occasion and bark when someone would come to their door. She stated that she had no idea that Neko was capable of behaving in the manner that he had behaved toward her nephew.
Following this attack, the toddler’s father filed a lawsuit claiming that his sister did know that Neko was a hazardous dog and that she had not taken proper precautions to protect the family and public from the dog. The toddler’s father is seeking to recover damages, i.e. have his sister pay for the personal injuries that the toddler received on that June day.
The Aunt does not feel that she should be responsible because she states that she had no prior knowledge of any vicious tendencies in the dog. She stated that she had locked the dog up in a back bedroom at one point because he was being a nuisance while people were eating. She also stated that there were at least twenty five people in her home that day for the party.
In the state of New York, a dog can be described as vicious even if the current case is the first time that the dog has ever bitten anyone. That is “if” the complainant can show that the dog had exhibited signs of being vicious short of actually biting anyone prior to the dog bite that is in question. Some of the signs that the dog could exhibit to demonstrate viciousness would be growling at people, snarling at people, or just showing its teeth in an aggressive manner in the presence of people. Of course, a previous incident of actual biting is demonstrative of viciousness as well. Some other indicators that the Court will take in to account are things like a “Beware of Dog” sign. A “Beware of Dog” sign demonstrates a certain knowledge of the dog owner that his or her dog is likely to be vicious even if it has never bitten anyone before.
The applicable standard in these cases in New York is whether the dog owner had any knowledge of the dog’s tendency to bite or otherwise be vicious prior to the attack on the victim. In this case, the dog owners had placed “Beware of Dog” signs on their fence line. The only dog that they owned was Neko, so it goes to stand that the warning was in reference to Neko and not to some other dog.
The toddler’s uncle stated that he put up the “Beware of Dog” signs because an acquaintance had told him that he had to if he owned a big dog in New York. He stated that he did not do it because he felt that Neko was a dangerous dog. He maintained that he had no knowledge whatsoever that Neko had a propensity to act in a vicious manner.
The dog’s owners have asked the court to issue a summary judgment to drop the lawsuit against them because they state that they did not have any prior knowledge of any vicious propensities owed to Neko. The toddler’s father opposes this motion to drop the suit because he claims that his sister did know that the dog was dangerous. He brought in witnesses who had first-hand knowledge of the dog acting in a vicious manner and advising that they had personally notified the female owner of the dog of the incident. The male owner of the dog, asks the court to drop all counts against him based on the fact that he moved out of the home on November 30, 2002 because he and the female owner of the dog are getting divorced. He further states that he should not be named in the suit because he was not even present at the party when the attack occurred. He was only informed later of the incident by his youngest daughter. He stated that he had insured that Neko receive basic obedience training in an informal atmosphere when he was a puppy and that part of that training consisted of him taking Neko’s food away from him while he was eating. He stated that Neko never growled, snapped or in any other way showed aggression when he and his children practiced this part of his training.
In regards to whether or not the female owner had knowledge under New York Law of any aggressive tendencies of the dog, an affidavit was produced from an employee of the female owner’s new husband. The employee stated that he and another man had been contracted by the Aunt’s husband to do some yard work at the house about a month before the incident at the party. He advised that when they went into the yard with Neko, they were “set upon” by him. The employee described the attack with Neko growling and then lunging at them. He stated that Neko had almost bitten the other man in the face. Both men took off running to get behind the fence and away from Neko. Neko made chase growling and trying to bite them the entire way. The employee stated that the man who was working with him immediately went into the house and told the female owner of the dog about the incident. The employee advised that he is unable to contact this other worker who suffered injury because he has since returned to his home in Mexico.
When this case was first heard, the courts found reason to believe that at least the female owner of the dog had knowledge that the dog had a propensity under the law to be vicious. She and her ex-husband had moved to have a summary judgment passed dismissing the case because they claim they had no knowledge of vicious behavior on the part of their dog. The court refused. Thus they have appealed this verdict to the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Suffolk County. At this hearing the Honorable Judge Robert W. Doyle, will decide if there is reason to believe that the owners had reason to be more cautious about exposing their dog to people and children based on a proclivity to bite.
In this case, the Judge has found that several of the factors that can point to knowledge of a propensity for the dog to act in an aggressive manner were demonstrated by the owners of the dog. Specifically, the owners had placed a “Beware of Dog” sign in not just one, but two places in their yard. One month before the toddler was bitten by the dog, two men who were hired to do yard work on the property were chased out of the yard by the dog snarling and attempting to bite them. Further, the owner’s had both admitted to witnessing the dog on several occasions reacting aggressively when someone came to their front door, even though he settled down after the people were allowed into the house.
New York law is clear that if an owner of a dog either knows or should have known that the animal has vicious propensities, then that owner is to be held liable for any harm that is caused by that animal. This president is set forth in Bard v Jahnke, 2006. The Judge in this case has found that enough evidence has been presented to show that the owners should have known that the dog had certain vicious propensities and that the attack on the toddler was sudden, unprovoked, and unexpected, leaving the child with visible and bleeding injuries to his throat, chin, and back of his head. New York law is also clear that a dog may be found to have vicious tendencies even if it has not bitten anyone before as in this case. The dog had aggressively chased workers, but had not caught them or bitten them. The dog had growled and responded aggressively to persons at his front door. The owners had placed a “Beware of Dog” sign on their fence demonstrating knowledge that this dog could possibly be dangerous.
Taking all of these situations into account the Judge in this case has ruled that the request for summary judgment to drop all criminal charges against the owners of the dog has been denied.
Stephen Bilkis & Associates with its New York Dog Bite Lawyers has convenient offices throughout the New York Metropolitan area including Corona, New York. Our New York Personal Injury Attorneys can provide you with advice to guide you through difficult situations. Without a New York Dog Bite Injury Attorney you could lose precious compensation to help with your medical bills and the trauma to you and your loved ones following such a frightening experience. This is true even if the Attorney for the dog owner has not adequately made its case. In addition to Personal Injury Law, Stephen Bilkis and Associates can recommend New York Criminal Lawyers who will protect your rights if you are ever arrested.
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