Those who have been bitten or otherwise injured by dogs or other animals may be entitled to be compensated under New York State law from the homeowner's insurance company for the dog owner. Oftentimes, these victims are reluctant to sue because the owner of the animal is a friend, neighbor or relative. Please see our discussion below under "ARE YOU RELUCTANT TO SUE" about what we recommend you do in this circumstance.
More than 4 million people are injured by dog bites EACH YEAR, according to a recent report by the CDC. The same report found that more than 800,000 people seek medical attention each year for dog bite injuries. Tragically, many dog bite victims are young children.
If you or your child has been injured by a dog bite attack, contact an experienced personal injury lawyer at Ellis Law. We practice exclusively in accident injury claims and have helped many victims of dog bites obtain compensation for their injuries.
Let us put our experience to work for you. We have several convenient office locations throughout New York, including Albany, NYC and Poughkeepsie and a "Mobile Law Office" staff to come to you anytime, anywhere. We are pleased to offer a free consultation and charge no fees unless we recover compensation for you.
Dog Bite Injuries And Fatalities
A dog bite attack can be a traumatizing experience. People who have been attacked by a dog may suffer severe wounds or lacerations, nerve damage, scars, disfigurement, and even death. Dog bite victims may also experience significant anxiety and emotional trauma.
Following a dog bite, accident victims may require hospitalization, reconstructive cosmetic surgery, psychological counseling or even physical rehabilitation. Fortunately, New York and other states throughout the nation provide powerful protections for dog attack victims if certain facts are proven about the dog. Many victims are entitled to bring a claim for pain, suffering, permanency of scarring or other injuries, costs of future treatment and basically, ANY change in the quality of their lives caused by their accident.
Pet owners are held to a high standard if their dogs attack another person without provocation. Many states, including New York, hold dog owners strictly liable for dog bites, with limited defenses available to pet owners. Some New York towns, villages and cities have leash laws and ordinances that can be used to the benefit of dog bite victims.
However, unfortunately, as discussed below, there is a very difficult legal hurdle that the victim must first get over before being allowed to make a claim.
New York Dog Bite Law And Case Investigations
Sadly, the old saying to the effect "a dog gets his first bite free" is the LAW of New York State. While this may seem very unfair to dog bite victims, unfortunately, it has been upheld by the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals.
What does it mean? It means that a dog is assumed to be a "tame" animal, unless it has proven otherwise. Thus, under the law, the owner is allowed to rely upon this assumption and will not be held liable unless it can be shown that the dog displayed "prior vicious propensities." While a prior bite is clear proof of viciousness, other actions of the dog may be used to evidence such propensities.
Once the dog has displayed such conduct, the law assumes the opposite — that the owner now knows the dog is vicious and thus, the owner must ensure that it does not bite someone. Proof of prior vicious propensities must be provided by the VICTIM! But, you have no need to worry because this is where we come in.
Many times, it is easy to prove prior vicious propensities. Since the dog's owner is usually a neighbor, friend or relative of the victim, the victim or the victim's family may know of a prior bite, or other vicious acts displayed by the dog. Or, the owner may, during the traumatic moment of the bite, "blurt out" an admission against his or her interests about viciousness. We once had the wife (dog owner) yell out to her husband (co-dog owner) immediately after the bite in front of several witnesses words to the effect: "I told you this was going to happen. I told you we should have never taken this dog from them." Through later investigation, we learned why she yelled this!
Sometimes, by his or her conduct, an owner may evidence knowledge of viciousness such as always locking the dog in a room when people are around, posting "Beware of Dog" signs, keeping the dog chained up even in a fenced in yard, etc. These actions give us a clue that more investigation is required about this particular owner's knowledge of viciousness.
This Is Where We Come In
What we meant by saying above that "this is where we come in" is that many times, the key to proving prior vicious propensities lies in the strength of the investigation conducted by the victim's lawyer, and sometimes that lawyer's creativity in putting together the claim.
At Ellis Law, we have both in-house and outside investigators who do whatever is needed and quickly, in order to solidify the claim before the insurance company gets a "head start" on us. For example, depending upon the facts of the case, we take photographs and measurements; contact health departments, dog wardens and veterinarians; interview neighbors, friends of the owner, postal workers, delivery persons, eyewitnesses or any others we can locate who may have had contact with the dog.
In one case, even though the owner kept the dog chained in the backyard, we were unable to obtain any strong proof of prior viciousness through interviews with the owner and all of his neighbors, along with contacting the dog warden and health department. Many law firms would have given up at this point.
However, we decided to hunt down and meet with the mailman, since we thought he would likely have had contact with this chained dog every single day (except, of course, on Sundays). To our pleasant surprise and to our happy client's benefit, the mailman told us that the REASON the dog was chained was that because of its prior displays of viciousness, he had REFUSED to deliver the mail unless the owner chained the dog!
Another case involved a young client who received over 150 stitches in her face when attacked by a Rottweiler in her friend's apartment. It turned out that since the friend was a tenant, he had no homeowner's insurance. He also had no renter's insurance. Again, in this situation, some law firms may have quit. We would never do so until we were CERTAIN there was no hope.
Through our investigation, we learned first, that the dog had bitten before. Normally this information would be very helpful in proving a case against a dog owner. Here, however, the owner had no insurance, so we needed to find if someone else might be at fault under the law.
Upon further investigation, we found out that the landlord of this large apartment building KNEW that this tenant was harboring a dog that was vicious. How did we know that he knew? Through interviews, we learned that not only had this dog bitten before, but we also learned that the prior victim was — the landlord himself! He had been bitten over a year earlier, so severely that he needed surgery.
Then, we dug further and found out that the lease prohibited tenants from having pets. In spite of this fact, the landlord allowed this vicious dog to remain in the apartment at lease renewal time, when he had a clear opportunity to either insist the tenant remove the vicious dog, or if the tenant refused, to evict him. This provided the legal basis for a solid claim against the landlord's insurance company, even though he did not own the dog!
So, you see how important it is to hire a law firm that utilizes aggressive and creative ideas to make out a case under difficult facts, where some other lawyers might give up or already have given up. It is equally important to hire a firm that is not afraid to spend time and money to fully investigate and prove your case.
That is where we come in!
Contact us today to schedule a free consultation with an experienced personal injury dog bite lawyer at Ellis Law. We have several convenient office locations throughout New York, including Albany, NYC and Poughkeepsie, and a "Mobile Law Office" staff who will come to you anytime, anywhere.
Most dog bites occur when the victim is attacked by a dog owned by friend, relative or neighbor. In this instance, often the victim (or if the victim is a child, his or her parents) feels uncomfortable bringing a claim against someone he or she is close to.
But, many people are unaware that dog bites are covered by the homeowner's insurance policy of the dog owner. This is the case, even if the bite does not occur on the owner's property! The insurance coverage "follows the dog," wherever the dog may go.
In fact, every year when dog owners pay their homeowner's insurance premiums, they are doing so precisely to ensure they are financially protected in this exact circumstance — in the event that their dog hurts someone. The insurance company has collected that money every year in exchange for the legally binding promise to provide that protection when it is needed.
Thus, the one that benefits the most if a claim is NOT brought is the insurance company, because it gets to keep the premiums AND it gets to keep the money that the payment of those premiums was designed to make available for the victim! Thus, the failure of the victim to bring a claim is a huge "win-win" for the insurance company, and a terribly unjust and substantial loss for the poor victim.
Thus, if you are uncertain about bringing a claim against a dog owner who is close to you, keep in mind that the claim is meant to seek a settlement or award from the insurance company! That is why the owner has insurance — so that if his or her close friend, relative or neighbor is hurt, there will be insurance available for the victim's medical bills, future treatment costs, pain and suffering, or permanent scarring.
If you are concerned that this person you are close to will be upset, or won't speak to you, think about it from his or her perspective. If the dog owner is as close to you as you believe to be the case, then perhaps he or she should WANT you to get compensated for what you are going through — as any close friend or relative would. This is especially true if the victim is a child, where a close friend or relative should be especially sensitive to the potentially devastating effect that a permanent scar could have upon the child's long future.
Another thing that is very important is that in order to provide coverage, under New York law, the homeowner's insurance company must be notified of the bite within a reasonable time, so they can investigate and protect their interests. If a failure to notify the insurance company in a timely fashion results in prejudice to the company, they can "disclaim" coverage. This means they can legally refuse to provide ANY coverage for that dog bite! Thus, you should act quickly.
If you are leaning toward not bringing a claim for your child because you do not want to upset the owner or for any other reason, consider that your child is relying upon you to make a decision that could affect the REST OF HIS OR HER LIFE! We have seen that one of the most devastating things that could happen to a child victim whose parents did not bring a claim is for the child to decide to do so after turning 18 — only to learn that the witnesses and evidence about the incident (or prior vicious propensities) are gone, or the insurance company disclaims on the legally valid grounds of "late notice."
A real-life example of parents who made a beneficial decision for their child in these circumstances was a dog bite case we handled where a young girl was bitten in the face by her uncle's dog. The uncle told his brother (the girl's father) that he would never speak to him again if he brought a claim.
When we met with the parents, we explained all of the above to them. They then began to question whether the uncle really cared about the little girl as much as they wanted to believe he did, or rather, whether he was putting his own interests ahead of hers. As you can see, having seen many children's rights compromised by their parents' inaction, we believe in being blunt and directly to the point when comes to inviting our clients to assess what is in the best legal interests of their children.
After thinking about it for a few days, the parents decided to proceed with the claim. We then conducted an investigation and next, we contacted the uncle's homeowner's company. Once our client's injuries had healed sufficiently so her treatment was ended, we negotiated directly with the insurance company and did not involve the uncle in any way.
We succeeded in obtaining a structured settlement of over $200,000 for our young client. The uncle was never sued, and he did not have to pay anything toward the settlement. And, by the way, once he calmed down, he continued to be involved with his family despite his dire warnings in the beginning of the case. Because each case is different, we obviously cannot guarantee a similar result in any future case, but we can guarantee the same level of skill and dedication that will go into your child's case if you decide to hire us to protect his or her legal rights.
If you would like to discuss your options as a dog bite victim or as the parent of a victim, please contact Ellis Law today for a free, no-obligation, no-pressure consultation.
Contact Our New York Dog Owner Negligence Lawyers
With offices in Albany, Poughkeepsie, New York City and numerous other convenient locations, we provide legal representation to clients throughout New York. Through co-counsel relationships with a network of experienced injury lawyers developed over many years, Ellis Law is prepared to assist injury victims with accident claims and wrongful death litigation throughout New York and anywhere in the United States. These law firms assume joint responsibility with us for the case and share the standard legal fees with us. In cases in which we employ co-counsel, our clients benefit from the full resources of "two law firms for the price of one." In other words, there is no additional fee for the client to have full access to the resources of both law firms.
To contact our Poughkeepsie, NYC, Bronx and Albany personal injury lawyers and for accident or injury cases anywhere in New York State or nationwide, call 1-800-LAW-7777 (1-800-529-7777) or 1-800-3-ABOGADO (1-800-322-6423). You may also contact us by email or fill in the simple Injury Answerline® form on this page for answers to your questions or a free case evaluation.
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