Schenectady, New York, dog bites and potential legal remedies

Unless it has happened to you or a loved one, people don't usually worry much about getting bitten by dogs. But it happens everywhere, even in Schenectady, and injuries can be extremely serious and long lasting, including scratches; puncture wounds; eye, ear and mouth disfiguration; and even the development of post-traumatic stress syndrome or PTSD. In the most serious cases, dog attacks can even result in death.

An online search reveals these recent Schenectady dog-bite incidents:

  • In October 2014, a postal worker in his 40s was repeatedly bitten by two pit bulls on a weekday afternoon.
  • In July 2014, a 13-year-old was severely injured in an evening attack by an unleashed pit bull in a residential driveway. The Times Union reports that he received 30 staples to close the wounds.

While these physical attacks concerned pit bulls, a dog of any breed or size is potentially dangerous.

The Daily Gazette reports that the city of Schenectady has gotten serious about enforcing the city dog licensing law since a horrible dog attack in 2011 left a woman disfigured, needing almost 200 stitches and plastic surgery. The hope is that the rabies vaccination requirement for a city license will make the public safer and dog owners more responsible overall.

The January 2014 article cites police records for these city dog-bite numbers:

  • 2013: six incidents
  • 2012: seven incidents
  • 2011: four incidents

But the Gazette also reports that state health data reveals that about 40 persons annually get rabies shots after being bitten by dogs in the city, so apparently many Schenectady dog attacks are not reported to police. The articles cites Schenectady city officials as harboring suspicions that organized dog fighting may make some local dogs more aggressive.

Three legal remedies in New York for dog bite victims

If a dog owner knows that his or her dog has vicious tendencies or should have known under the circumstances, that owner is strictly liable under New York law for injuries caused by that dog if it bites or attacks someone. Strict liability under the law means that even if the owner took reasonable precautions or was not negligent, he or she would normally still be liable because of the owner's knowledge of the dog's viciousness and choice to keep it anyway.

A defense to a strict liability dog bite claim concerning a vicious dog is that the victim knew of the viciousness and exposed him or herself to the danger anyway.

The second potential basis for dog owner liability for dog bite injury is a lawsuit in negligence. A dog owner would be negligent if he or she breached a duty of care toward another person to keep him or her safe from foreseeable harm the dog could cause. Liability in negligence may arise in the context of the duty of a property owner to keep the premises reasonably safe for people lawfully there.

In addition, the New York legislature enacted a statute concerning dangerous dogs that provides procedures for reporting dog attacks or potential attacks to authorities and options (including potential euthanasia) for local judges to handle potentially dangerous dogs; fines (reduced by payments to bite victims for expenses) for negligent owners allowing bites; criminal penalties; strict liability for medical costs from bites by dangerous dogs; and more.

Any dog-bite victim in Schenectady should consult with an experienced dog bite attorney such as one at Higgins, Roberts & Suprunowicz, P.C., to understand potential legal remedies under the circumstances.