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Court of Appeals finds in favor of pet owners in "dog vs. bike" crashes

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 the injuries.

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," Lippman wrote.

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.