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Vet Clinic Denied Summary Judgment In Mistaken Dog Bite Case (NY)

February 25, 2022

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<p style="text-align: justify;">New York courts do not recognize a cause of action for common-law negligence in dog bite cases, but an injured plaintiff can recover under a theory of strict liability if they can meet the specific burden of proof. In <em><a href="">Ciaccio v. Mamaroneck Veterinary Hosp., P.C.</a>,</em> 2019 N.Y. Misc LEXIS 1254, the Supreme Court of New York, Westchester County, addressed these issues in a case where a dog owner sued a veterinary clinic after the clinic returned the wrong dog to plaintiff and the dog bit her. Plaintiff had left her dog at the clinic for veterinary services and the clinic erroneously returned another dog of the same size, breed, and color without looking at the name tag. The clinic moved for summary judgment on plaintiff’s strict liability claims.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In reviewing the legal standards, the court observed that plaintiff could recover upon a theory of strict liability if he or she can prove that the dog had vicious propensities and that the owner of the dog, or person in control of the premises where the dog was, knew or should have known of such propensities. The court stated that there is no bright line rule that a prior comparable vicious act is required in order to prove same. In fact, evidence tending to prove that a dog has vicious propensities could include a prior attack, the dog’s tendency to growl, snap or bark its teeth, the manner in which the dog is normally restrained, and a proclivity to act in a way that puts others at risk of harm.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">In opposing summary judgment, the clinic argued that plaintiff could not establish that the dog had any vicious propensities or that defendants had any knowledge of its vicious behavior. However, the vet who owned the clinic refused to testify as to his knowledge of the dog’s propensities, claiming that he was prohibited by law from answering questions regarding another client’s animal without that client’s written consent, which was not provided. Plaintiff argued in support of the motion that the traditional dog bite analysis was inapplicable because the clinic was a commercial enterprise and not a protected class of pet owner. She further argued that the clinic was negligent in failing to look at the dog tag and she also introduced a behavioral expert to explain the dog’s reaction.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Court ultimately denied the motion for summary judgment, finding that the clinic failed to eliminate all issues of triable fact as to whether they should have known of the vicious propensities of the dog since the vet refused to answer any questions concerning this issue. The court observed that it was immaterial whether the clinic was the owner of the dog as long as they kept the dog. Harboring the dog at one’s premises or allowing it to remain there qualifies as keeping the dog under the law. In an apparent criticism of New York’s failure recognize negligence claims in dog bite cases, the court also joined “the chorus line of other jurists” in “voicing frustration and displeasure at the fundamental unfairness of ignoring blatant negligence, which is overwhelming in this case…”</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The <em>Ciaccio</em> case echoes New York’s rule limiting dog bite liability to strict liability claims but demonstrates that non-owners can be liable if they have control over the premises where a dog is kept and knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensities.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thank you to Tristan Montague for his contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="">Andrew Gibbs</a> with any questions.</p>


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