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Vicious Propensity Rule: Not a Protection for All (NY)

March 5, 2021

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In<em> <a href="https://www.wcmlaw.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/Hewitt.pdf">Hewitt</a> v. Palmer Veterinary Clinic,</em> PC, 35 N.Y.3d 541, 547, 159 N.E.3d 228, 231 (2020), the plaintiff sustained injuries in the Palmer Veterinary Clinic’s waiting room when a dog attacked her, resulting in bodily injuries.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The defendant Palmer raised the vicious propensity rule and argued that it had no prior knowledge of the canine’s vicious propensities. The Appellate Division agreed with Palmer, finding that the clinic “could not be held liable without notice of an animal's vicious propensities", relying on the Court of Appeals precedent dismissing claims against animal owners in the absence of proof of such notice.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Plaintiff appealed the Appellate Division’s finding, and argued that the vicious propensity rule should not and does not apply to Palmer, as the rule only applies to owners of dogs known to have the vicious propensities. “An owner of a dog may be liable for injuries caused by that animal only when the owner had or should have had knowledge of the animal's vicious propensities (see <em>Collier,</em> 1 N.Y.3d at 446, 775 N.Y.S.2d 205, 807 N.E.2d 254). “Once such knowledge is established, an owner faces strict liability for the harm the animal causes as a result of those propensities” (id. at 448, 775 N.Y.S.2d 205, 807 N.E.2d 254).</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">On appeal, the Court of Appeals agreed with plaintiff that Palmer is “a veterinary clinic, whose agents have specialized knowledge relating to animal behavior and the treatment of animals.” As veterinary clinics “are uniquely well-equipped to anticipate and guard against the risk of aggressive animal behavior that may occur in their practices—an environment over which they have substantial control, and which potentially may be designed to mitigate this risk.”</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">The Court of Appeals concluded that Palmer is not afforded the protections of the vicious propensity rule. Ultimately the court found that defendant Palmer may still be subject to a negligence claim, despite the clinic’s lack of notice of the dog's vicious propensities.</p>
Thanks to Marysa Linares for her contribution to this post. Please contact <a href="mailto:Haquino@wcmlaw.com">Heather Aquino</a> with any questions.

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