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New York Appellate Court Discusses Punitive Damages in Dog Bite Actions


In 2004, New York courts ruled that recovery for punitive damages on dog bite cases could no longer be made on a finding of common law negligence. They could only be made if the victim of the dog bite could demonstrate that the owner of the dog knew in advance that their animal had the propensity to bite another person. Once they were made aware that their dog had the propensity to bite another person, the victim would then have to show that the owner of the dog took no measures to ensure that their dog would not bite anyone in the future.

Cases that attempt to stray from that narrow line of questioning can pose problems for jurors in making their decisions in an unbiased manner. One case of this type was originally decided on June 1, 2005 in Columbia County, New York. At the time, the court found in favor of the victim of the dog bite. The owner filed an appeal to set aside the verdict based on numerous errors that the court made during the trial of the case.

The victim was an employee of the owner of the dog, a dachshund at the time of the injury. The dog bit the victim’s hand and caused her to sustain injury. She filed a suit against the owner of the dog to recover damages from the bite. The dog’s owner filed a request for summary judgment by the court dismissing the complaint. The victim filed an appeal, and the Supreme Court reversed the decision to dismiss the complaint. They determined that there were questions of fact as to the dog owner’s knowledge that the dog possessed vicious tendencies that needed to be heard at trial. The owner filed this motion to reverse the complaint again based on the errors of the court during the trial.

Because of the ruling that dog bite cases can only be decided based on strict liability charges and may not be decided on theories of common law negligence, the fact that the court allowed testimony discussing the dog owners alcoholism and prescription drug abuse was not appropriate. It only served to prejudice the decision against him. Further, evidence was brought that stated that he had been known to have a firearm and to brandish it upon occasion, also had no bearing on the case at hand. The defendant contends that all of this testimony was given to demonstrate common law negligence that was not appropriate and should have been excluded from the trial.

The dog owner also maintains that the testimony that was provided from his doctor that stated that he had seen the dog bit visible on the hand of the victim on the day after the dog bite because the victim brought the man to his office was not appropriate. The reason that he contends that this testimony was not appropriate is that the doctor stated to the victim that he had heard that the dog had a history of biting people. However, the doctor could not remember who he heard it from. This evidence was allowed even though it is clearly hearsay evidence and should not have been accepted to prove that the dog owner had any prior knowledge that his dog was likely to bite a person.

Thirdly, the dog owner contends that evidence that was presented by the victim that she had heard about two dachshunds that had attacked and killed a larger dog in a dog fight. This evidence should have been excluded for many reasons. It was hearsay evidence, prejudicial, and inflammatory, besides being totally irrelevant to the current case before the court. The court agreed and referred the case to a new trial.

At Stephen Bilkis & Associates, their New York personal injury lawyers are ready to help you in several convenient offices located throughout New York and the Bronx area. Our New York Dog Bite Attorneys will fight for your rights in the event that you need representation.

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