Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Prospect Park, Again; The One-Bite Rule

7:55 A.M.: One unleashed dog on Wellhouse Drive heading towards Peninsula Dog Run.
7:57 A.M.: A second unleashed dog on Wellhouse Drive
8:15 A.M.: 2 unleashed dogs along east side of lullwater, between feeders and boat house
5:15 P.M.: 3 unleashed dogs near 9th Street playground

As usual, all of the dog owners were Caucasian.

So, you say, an unleashed dog is no threat to passersby because the owner wouldn't let the dog loose unless he were sure that his dog was safe, since the owner would be afraid of being sued. Think again. New York, like many states, has a "one-bite rule": a dog owner is liable for the dog's bite only if the dog is "dangerous", which it isn't unless it has bitten at least once. So the dog, and its owner, gets one free bite, no matter how much damage that bite causes. That rule is not statutory; it's the decision in an old case, and whether that should still be the rule is now before New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals. But it does not seem that the plaintiff has gotten the court's sympathy:

Now, things MIGHT be different if the dog is illegally unleashed, because one would be suing not for negligently letting a dangerous dog loose but for the consequences of the other party's breaking the law. For example, the owner of a car that crashes into yours is worse off legally if he was speeding than if he wasn't. But where dogs are concerned, that probably is uncharted legal territory, and one guesses that loose dog owners couldn't care less.

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