Highest Court in the State Finds in favor of Dog Owners whose animal causes
a Bike Crash
This week, the New York State Court of Appeals, the highest Court in the
State, wrestled with animal owner liability when a dog causes a bike crash.
The effect of the Court's 73 pages of writing in the cases of Doerr
v. Goldsmith, 17, and Dobinski v. Lockhart, 66, will leave the law unchanged
and cyclists on the losing end.
In both cases before the Court, riders were injured when they fell off
bicycles after they collided with dogs, Wolfgang Doerr on the Central
Park loop road in Manhattan in May 2009 and Cheryl Dobinski on a rural
road in Franklinville, Cattaraugus County, in May 2012. The issue before
the Court was whether in these circumstances the rule of law typically
applied in dog bite cases should be applied here. This rule typically
requires that a plaintiff must first prove that an owner "knew"
or "should have known" of the animals prior vicious propensity
before the attacked occurred.
As these two cases before the Court did not involve attacks, both plaintiff's
claims were based in general negligence theories against the Defendant's
in their ownership and control of the dogs and negligently allowing them
to run lose and into the path of cyclists. Both defendants moved to have
these negligence claim dismissed. They argued that the same rule of law
that applies to dog bites cases should be applied here. They argued that
if the cyclist wants to bring a claim for the negligent control of the
animal they still must prove knowledge of a prior vicious propensity.
The Court of Appeals in these cases agreed and the claims were dismissed.
The majority in each case also held that the court's more recent holding
does not allow the plaintiffs to claim negligence because the dogs involved
were not domesticated farm animals, as was the runaway cow which caused
Justice Lippman wrote in dissent in
Doerr that the owners of the dog who got in Doerr's way should face potential
liability. He said courts previously have held owners responsible for
pets who have gotten in the way of bicycles or otherwise caused injuries
without displaying any "vicious propensities." "As we recognized
[before], the vicious propensity rule does not cover every situation,"
Fahey and Pigott dissented in each case, with Fahey writing that he believes
that this rule in
Bard was "wrongly decided" and should be abandoned. Fahey said the
court should return to a general rule that puts liability on animal owners
who fail to "exercise the standard of care that a reasonably prudent
person would have exercised in a similar situation."
The results of this decision create a harsh result for NY cyclist injured
by dogs that are allowed to run into the path of riders or otherwise cause a crash.