THE SINS OF OUR DOGS

We all love our canine friends, and they are certainly dedicated to us. At times, though, they may not love or even like others, especially strangers. Other than disturbing the peace, there is no harm when they bark. But what happens when they bite?

If a person gets bit by a dog in New York State, he or she can sue the owner for damages. But be aware that the burden of proof rests on the victim. The first time a dog bites someone, the victim must prove that the owner was negligent. Negligence is what is known under the law as a Tort, and has four criteria or elements that must be met or proven: duty, breach, causation and damages.

The person who was injured or bit by a dog must first and foremost prove that the owner had a duty to keep his dog restrained or properly penned. (Many local municipalities actually have ordinances requiring that dogs be on a leash when off the owner's property.) Then the injured party must prove that the owner breached that duty in some way, such as not keeping the dog on a leash. Next, the victim must prove that, as a result or causation of the dog owner's breach, the dog bit or attacked him. So if you pulled Wags' tail and he bit you, the causation will not be a result of the owner's breach. Finally, the injured party must prove that he or she was damaged or injured in some way. So if Wags bit you but didn't leave a scratch, you will not be able to prove damages, and your negligence case will consequently fail.

However, if it is determined that the dog had bitten or attacked someone else in the past or that the dog had a "vicious propensity" (Wags has a reputation for going after the neighborhood children), then the dog owner will be considered strictly liable and the elements of negligence need not be proven. In that case, the victim need only prove that the attack occurred and that the owner's dog did it.

Depending on the severity of the injury, a jury could ultimately award a dog bite victim thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Therefore, a dog owner must do his best to keep Wags under control so that he never bites or attacks anyone, because if your dog's bite is really worse than its bark, you could end up paying dearly for the sins of your beloved pet.