Some good news coming out of the coronavirus pandemic: pet adoptions are up – both from shelters and from pet stores that had to close their doors.
If you have adopted a new dog, there are some things you should know about responsible dog ownership in New York.
New York is a strict liability state when it comes to domestic animal ownership. That means that you are liable for injuries caused by your animal regardless of whether you were careful (or, in more legal terms, liable even in the absence of negligence), if you knew or should have known of your animal's vicious or dangerous propensities. Vicious or dangerous propensities can include prior bites, snapping, aggressive growling, or other dangerous behavior that can cause injury but is not necessarily “vicious” in the Cujo-like way we might think. (By the way, the law applies to individuals “harboring” a dog even if you are not technically the dog's “owner”).
Strict liability can be good and bad for dog owners. On the one hand, if you didn't know that your dog was vicious or dangerous because he or she had never done anything dangerous in the past, then you are off the hook even if you were negligent (by, for example, not keeping your dog fenced or leashed). But, on the other hand, if you did know of vicious or dangerous behavior, then you are on the hook even if you did everything right and were very careful.
Dog owners should make sure their insurance is up to date. This includes renters. Be sure that your homeowner's or renter's insurance covers dog bites, and whether you are obligated to advise the insurance company of a new pet. Renters, don't assume you're covered by your landlord or that your landlord will be liable and get sued instead of you as the deeper pocket. Landlords are pretty well protected by the law and, if they didn't know you had a vicious/dangerous dog, they may be off the hook leaving you as the primary defendant in a lawsuit.
What happens if your dog bites someone, you get sued and you have no insurance? You will be paying out of your pocket for a lawyer and, if you are liable, get a personal judgment against you. Some who cannot afford an attorney will “default”, meaning they don't respond to the lawsuit and judgment is entered against them (even if, maybe, had they defended themselves, they could have been successful). This is not a good position to be in.
If you do have insurance, an insurance attorney will step in to defend you and, in many cases, could even get a case dismissed. The law on vicious/dangerous propensities is pretty good for dog owners, especially if your dog has never bitten anyone in the past, so it would be unfortunate to take the risk of having no insurance and being on the hook for something you could have gotten out of.