NY Owner Held Negligent For Injuries Caused by Animal

New York has a new rule when it comes to injuries caused by animals.
For the first time in ten years the New York Court of Appeals in Hastings v. Suave has held that an animal owner may be held liable under the theory of negligence.  This is a major departure from the prior New York  rule that an animal owner could only be held liable for an injury caused by an animal if the animal had showed prior vicious propensities.  Though the court's ruling today only specifically ruled on the facts of the case before it - that the owner of a farm animal can be held negligent for allowing it to stray from the property on which it is kept - the negligence theory will assuredly be used in similar cases where accidents are caused by dogs or other household pets escaping and causing traffic accidents, or causing people to fall.  In fact, the court did not not preclude such a finding in the future, holding that "that question must await a different case."
The key to the finding that the animal owner could be held liable for negligence was that the incident did "not involve aggressive or threatening behavior by any animal".
This is a significant ruling for the those injured by animals, and hopefully the first movement towards moving New York to  join every other state in the nation where an owner of a domestic animal who does not know or have reason to know that the animal is more dangerous than others of its class may still be liable for negligently failing to prevent the animal from inflicting an injury
However, the court in Bloomer v. Shauger made clear that a person who is attacked by an animal still must prove that the owner had knowledge of vicious propensities. Thus if the injury is caused by aggressive or threatening behavior, the victim must still show a vicious propensity.  
In the Hastings case the driver of a vehicle struck a cow which had escaped from a farm.  There was evidence that the fence separating the farm from the road was overgrown and in bad repair.  A lower court had dismissed the case because there was no showing of a prior vicious  propensity on the part of the cow.  However, in a departure from earlier rulings (see "When Animals Attack") the Court of Appeals has held that a prior vicious propensity need not be shown where a farm animal has negligently been allowed to stray from the property where it is kept. 
In the Bloomer  case decided by the Court of Appeals on the same day as Hastings, the plaintiff was injured when he was bitten by a horse.  The court reiterated that "plaintiff cannot recover in the absence of a showing that defendant had knowledge of the animal's 'vicious propensity' or propensity to do any act that might endanger the safety of persons and property of others' (Bard, 6 N.Y.3d at 596-597, quoting Collier v. Zambit, 1 N.Y.3d 444, 4446 [2004])."
In New York, a dog (and a horse) still gets two bites.
-Marc Miner. Esq.
If you are injured by an animal in NY you should consult  a New York Personal Injury attorney who handles dog bite cases and other injury cases caused by animals.  For a free consultation call the NY personal injury firm of Zalman Schnurman & Miner at 1-800-LAWLINE (1-800-529-5463). 

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