New York Dog-Bite Injury Laws and Owner Liability Rules

Learn about dog owners' liability for injuries caused by their pets, an owner's potential defenses, and more.

By , J.D. · University of Michigan Law School

New York dog-bite laws cover several key areas that could affect a personal injury case. In this article, we'll look at the deadlines for filing a dog-bite injury lawsuit in a New York civil court, New York's dog-bite statute, and the state's use of both strict liability and negligence-based dog-bite laws.

We'll finish with a look at the defenses a dog owner might raise when facing a dog-bite claim or civil lawsuit.

New York's Statute of Limitations for Dog-Bite Lawsuits

The deadline to bring a civil case to court in New York is called the statute of limitations. For personal injury cases, including those arising from dog bites, the statute of limitations requires a case to be filed in court within three years of the date of injury. If you do not file your case within the three-year time limit, the court may bar you from filing it at all. So it's important to pay attention to and abide by the statute of limitations as it applies to your dog-bite claim.

See New York Personal Injury Laws & Statutory Rules for relevant time limits, negligence laws, and related legal rules.

New York's Dog-Bite Statute

Section 121 of the New York Code covers dog bites and other dog-related injuries. Specifically, this statute states that the owner or custodian of a "dangerous dog" is liable for the medical costs of any injuries the dog causes to a person, to livestock, or to a companion animal like a disability service dog.

A "dangerous dog" is one that:

  • attacks and injures or kills a person, farm animal, or pet without justification, or
  • behaves in a way that would make a reasonable person believe the dog poses "serious and unjustified imminent threat of serious physical injury or death."

Exceptions to the "dangerous dog" designation include law enforcement dogs who are carrying out their duties.

New York: Strict Liability or Negligence for Dog Bites?

New York uses a combination of strict liability and negligence for dog bites and other dog-caused injuries. For medical bills resulting from a dog-bite injury, the dog's owner or custodian is "strictly liable," even if he or she used reasonable care to restrain or control the dog.

For all other costs related to a dog-bite injury, New York follows the concept of negligence, meaning the dog's owner or custodian is only liable if he or she failed to use reasonable care to control the dog or to protect or warn others about the dog's dangerous habits. The negligence rule is sometimes known as the "one-bite" rule, because an owner who knows a dog has bitten or acted aggressively before must use reasonable care to warn others about the danger.

In order to collect damages beyond medical bills, negligence would need to be proven.

Defenses to a Dog-Bite Claim in New York

New York's dog-bite laws provide several possible defenses that the owner of a dog might raise when faced with a dog-bite claim. For instance, a law enforcement unit is not liable for a law enforcement dog that bites or injures someone while carrying out its official duties. A dog may also avoid being labeled a "dangerous dog" under New York law if any of the following are true:

  • the dog was protecting property from someone who was trespassing or committing a crime. (Learn more about homeowner liability for trespasser injuries.)
  • the dog was being tormented, abused, assaulted, or physically threatened by the person who was bitten or injured.
  • the dog acted in response to pain or injury, or was protecting its owner, home, or offspring.
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