New York’s Highest Court Issues Ruling On Personal Injury Caused By Animals

May 3, 2013

Over the past several years, many Buffalo personal injury lawyers have noted that cases involving injuries caused by animals – either dogs and cats or domestic animals such as cows or horses – have become increasingly difficult.  New York is one of only a handful of states that requires an injured person to prove that the animal’s owner knew – prior to the incident – that the animal had “vicious propensities.” No personal injury case can be successfully pursued without this proof.  This can be especially difficult when, for example, someone is bitten by a stranger’s dog and the stranger simply denies any prior dangerous behavior.

Several court rulings have applied this strict standard to all cases involving any pet or domestic animal, finding that no matter how negligent the owner is, it still must be proven that the owner knew the animal was dangerous.  This has led to people who suffered severe personal injury receiving no compensation despite the clear negligence of the owner.  Recently, however, New York’s highest court – the Court of Appeals – ruled that negligent owners may be held accountable in some cases without having to prove an animal had vicious propensities.

In the case of Hastings v. Sauve, a cow had strayed into the road and been struck by a van, causing personal injury to the van’s driver.  The fences containing the cow were noted to be in poor repair.  When the injured driver sued, the lower court dismissed the case because she could not prove the cow had “vicious propensities.”  The Court of Appeals has reversed this ruling and allowed the case to proceed, finding that under these circumstances, the defendants may be found negligent in allowing the animal to stray.

While the Court of Appeals carefully limited this decision to straying livestock, it does offer people injured by animals some hope that they may not have to prove the owner knew an animal was dangerous in every case.

If you have been injured by someone’s pet or domestic animal, please feel free to call us at 716-400-0000 with any questions.