Thomas M. Bona, P.C.

Attorneys At Law

The Final Word:

Court of Appeals Says No To Negligence Standard For Animal Injuries


As part of our continuing commitment to provide outstanding representation and to serve as an information resource, we wish to inform you of a recent case decision from the Court of Appeals regarding the proper standard for injuries by animals.


An area that we have written about several times over the past few years is animal liability. As you may recall, the traditional rule is that in order to succeed, a plaintiff must show that an owner knew of an animal's vicious propensities. There have been several Appellate Division cases over the past year or two where the Appellate Divisions have found that a plaintiff can prevail not on a strict liability theory, but on a negligence theory where an injury is caused not by a bite but rather by an accident involving an animal. These Appellate Division cases have finally reached the Court of Appeals which has now offered its definitive reading on animal liability.


In Doerr v. Goldsmith and a companion case, the Court of Appeals was presented with a factual situation where the plaintiff was injured when he was riding his bike and collided with the defendant's dog. The plaintiff alleged that the defendant was negligent because as the plaintiff was riding nearby, defendant's girlfriend, who was on the other side of the road, called for the dog which was not wearing a leash to come to her which caused the dog to run across the road and into the plaintiff's path of travel. The First Department had found that the Courts should recognize that an accident caused by an animal's aggressive or threatening behavior is fundamentally distinct from one caused by an animal owner's negligence. There was a dissent so there was an appeal to the Court of Appeals.


The Court of Appeals reversed and dismissed the complaint. The Court of Appeals found that the only theory of liability for injuries by non-farm animals is strict liability and not negligence based on a pet owners failure to confine the animal to the property owner's property or to restrain the animal from running into another. The Court of Appeals declined to overrule its precedent and distinguished cases involving domestic farm animals which are not subject to a strict liability standard. The Court reiterated that its precedent does not bar a suit for negligence where a farm animal has been allowed to stray from property where it is kept. The Court found that there was no inconsistency between a negligence standard for causes of action involving farm animals that are allowed to stray and a strict liability standard for animals other than domestic farm animals.


The Court of Appeals has now closed the door on any theory other than strict liability for domestic animals other than farm animals. Thus, following long held precedent in order to prevail, a plaintiff must prove that an owner knew of the animal's vicious propensities.

Thomas M. Bona