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New York Appellate Court Reverses Prior Summary Judgment in Dog Bite Case


A father commenced a legal action individually and on behalf of his daughter, seeking damages for injuries sustained by his daughter when she allegedly was dog attacked owned and/or harbored by the respondents, the maternal grandfather of the complainant’s daughter, and another woman. The complainant claims that Supreme Court erred in granting the respective motions of the respondents for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against them, but the court properly denied the father’s cross motion for partial summary judgment on liability.

Contrary to the court’s determination, there is an issue of fact whether the dog at issue, caused the injuries sustained by the complainant’s four-year-old daughter. The record establishes that the complainant’s daughter was alone in a room with the dog, a Husky-Rottweiler mixed breed dog, when family members who were in an adjoining room heard the dog growl and heard the complainant’s daughter crying. When the family members entered the room, the complainant’s daughter had a gaping laceration on her nasal bridge and multiple puncture wounds on her face. Although the actual incident was un-witnessed, there is an issue of fact whether the Husky Rottweiler inflicted the injuries sustained by the complainant’s daughter, particularly in view of the medical records indicating that the complainant’s daughter was treated for a dog bite as a result of the incident at issue. Contrary to the statement of the court in its bench decision, those medical records may ultimately be deemed admissible at trial.

Also contrary to the court’s determination, the record states that there is an issue of fact whether respondents knew or should have known that the Husky Rottweiler had any vicious propensities. The record establishes that, a week or two before the incident at issue, the Husky Rottweiler bit the hand of a boy. Although the dog bite did not require medical attention, the boy’s grandfather was informed that the dog had bitten his grandson. Knowledge of vicious propensities may of course be established by proof of prior acts of a similar kind of which the owner had notice. The court erred in determining as a matter of law that the bite to the grandson was too minor or trivial to establish that the Husky Rottweiler had vicious propensities. Rather, the issue whether the dog bites to the grandson was sufficient to provide notice to the respondents of the woman’s vicious propensities is one for the trier of fact to resolve. Although the maternal grandfather’s grandson denied that she had actual knowledge that the Husky Rottweiler had bitten the grandson, the complainant raised an issue of fact with respect to the knowledge of the incident. The record establishes that the maternal grandfather and the woman resided together for 10 years, trained the dog together, shared the responsibility for taking the dog to the veterinarian, harbored the dog in their home and had equal control over the dog. Thus, a trier of fact should be permitted to evaluate the credibility of the maternal grandfather concerning her denial of knowledge of that dog bite. Moreover, the complainant presented the deposition testimony in which he stated that it was their usual practice not to leave a four-year-old child alone in a room with the dog, and a trier of fact could reasonably infer that the respondents had knowledge of vicious propensities on the part of the woman, resulting in that practice. An animal that behaves in a manner that would not necessarily be considered dangerous or ferocious, but nevertheless reflects a proclivity to act in a way that puts others at risk of harm, can be found to have vicious propensities-albeit only when such proclivity results in the injury giving rise to the lawsuit.

Finally, we conclude on the record before us that there is an issue of fact whether both were owners of the dog and had sole ownership of her. The record establishes that, although the dog was unlicensed at the time of the incident, she lived for nine years in the home occupied by the respondents. The court concludes that there is an issue of fact with respect to the ownership of the dog.

Owning a dog comes with great responsibilities. If they caused other people harm or injuries and you find yourself in the middle of a legal action, feel free to contact a NY Dog Bite Attorney together with a New York Dog Attack Lawyer. You may also consult with a NY Injury Attorney from Stephen Bilkis and Associates.

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