What Happens When a Service Dog Bites?

New York law makes dog owners liable for attacks by their dogs. But what you must prove to recover compensation after a dog attack and how much you can recover will depend on the dog.

A bite from a service dog could complicate the process of recovering compensation. The dog’s history and training will be well documented. This documentation may cast doubt on your version of the events.

Here is some information on dog bite law in New York and what you need to know when a service dog bites you.

New York Dog Bite Law

Some states impose strict liability for dog bites on the dog owner. This means that the owner is always liable for the damage the dog causes. A dog bite victim in these states does not need to prove that the owner acted negligently.

Other states require dog bite victims to prove negligence. In these states, the dog might receive “one free bite” before the law imposes liability on the owner, since if the owner did not know and had no reason to know of the dog’s vicious tendencies–because it had never bit someone before­–a court will not hold the owner liable for their dog attacking someone that first time. New York uses a hybrid approach to dog bite liability.

Strict Liability for Dangerous Dogs in New York

When a dangerous dog causes physical injury to a person, pet, or farm animal, the law imposes strict liability on the owner. This means that the dog bite victim does not need to prove that the owner behaved negligently in allowing the dog to bite the victim.

Strict liability makes it easier for dog bite victims to recover compensation in New York than in states that require proof of negligence. But New York’s dog bite statute has two important limitations.

Dangerous Dog

For strict liability to apply, the dog must fall into the definition of “dangerous dog.” According to the statute, the dog bite victim can prove the dog’s danger in two ways:

Unjustified Attack

The dog attacked a person, pet, service dog, guide dog, or hearing dog without justification and caused physical injury or death. This option allows you to show the danger of the dog merely by showing what happened in your case. But the statute still requires you to show that the dog had no justification for attacking.

Dangerous Behavior

The dog behaves in a manner that a reasonable person would interpret as a threat to people or pets. This option requires you to prove negligence by the owner.

Medical Costs

The dog bite law only requires the owner to pay the medical costs of the dog bite victim. You cannot recover compensation for lost income, diminished earning capacity, pain, or suffering by using strict liability.

Imposing Strict Liability on Service Dogs

The breadth of strict liability makes it the most viable path to recovering compensation for a service dog bite. A service dog would likely have a well-documented history of training and good behavior. This history would likely show that the dog had no prior threatening behavior.

But under the “unjustified attack” option, you do not need to show the dog behaved dangerously. Rather, you just need to show that your bite was unjustified.

This explains why most service dogs wear a vest that warns bystanders not to bother the dog. The warning helps the dog owner prove justification for bites. If a bite occurs because the victim bothered the service dog despite the warning, the owner can argue that they are not at fault for the victim’s injury. If the judge agrees that the dog was provoked, the victim won’t be able to gain compensation.

Emotional Support Dogs are Not Considered Service Dogs

Because service dogs undergo strict training, it would be unusual for a true service dog to attack unprovoked or out of aggression. However, some dog owners and dog attack victims may confuse emotional support animals with service animals.

Emotional support animals do not require any kind of training, unlike service animals. Further unlike service animals, emotional support animals don’t have rights to go in all public spaces under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Because they haven’t been trained to deal with being in a place like a restaurant or store, an emotional support animal may be more likely to become agitated or aggressive in public, and the owner may be unlikely to know how to calm the animal down or prevent it from acting out.

If you were bitten by a service dog, there is a possibility it was not actually a service dog and was an emotional support dog instead. This could make it easier to prove negligence and get compensation for your injuries.

Hire a New York Dog Bite Attorney

An experienced New York dog bite attorney can help you navigate the state’s dog bite laws and develop a legal strategy for recovering fair compensation for your injury.

Asserting strict liability and negligence will require both legal knowledge and experience in dog bite law, especially if you were injured by a service animal while it was working. Contact Catalano Law for more information on dog bite law or to schedule a free consultation.

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