While dogs can be wonderful companions, they can also be dangerous animals. Dog bites occur can occur when you least expect it since dogs can only communicate through their actions. When dogs are provoked, feel threatened, scared or stressed they may lash out at a person and bite. Dogs’ jaws are very strong and the force of a bite can result in a serious injury.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 4.5 million dog bites occurred in 2016 with 900,000 of those cases resulting in an infection. It’s important to protect your family and take action should it happen to someone you love.

The first thing you should do after a dog bite is seek medical attention to decrease your chances of infection. Though extremely rare, fatalities resulting from dog bites do occur.

Second, consult an attorney to determine whether you have a legal claim and what damages you may be able to recover. It is important that you collect the name and phone number of the dog’s owner and the name and phone number of any witnesses.

The State of New York does not have a “dog bite statute.” Instead, common law or prior cases, govern liability in dog bite cases. Common law permits recovery of damages on a strict liability basis if it can be shown that the dog has “vicious propensities,” for example, has a history of biting people with the owner’s knowledge. “Vicious propensities” has been defined as the propensity to do any act that might endanger the safety of people and other people’s property. The New York Court of Appeals has made it clear that a history of biting people is only one type of evidence to show a dog’s dangerous propensities. See Collier v. Zambito, 1 NY3d 444 (2004). Other evidence includes a dog’s tendency to growl, snap, bare its teeth and a propensity to act in a way that puts others at a risk of harm. Where it cannot be shown that the owner knew or should have known of the dog’s vicious propensities, the plaintiff will have to prove that the owner was negligent in some way.

There are cases where dog owners are not liable for the attack. In this instance, the owner would have to take measures to keep the dog away from others as well as warn others that the dog was dangerous. If the person who got bitten was aware of all this, but failed to mitigate their risk, the owner might not be liable.

Since there is no “dog bite statute” and many exceptions to each situation, it is important to consult an experienced attorney to handle such a case. Spiegel, Brown and Fichera has been fighting for dog bite victims in the Hudson Valley for over 40 years.