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Michael Napolitano Authors, "New Yorkers Struggle to Recover from Pit Bull Attacks"

Jun 20, 2012

On June 19, 2012 a 7-year-old girl was taken to a New York City hospital with serious injuries after being attacked by a pit bull in a Harlem building. The child required stitches in her arm and sustained large scratches across her neck. Police removed two pit bulls from the scene, and later charged two adults in the incident. The owner of the dogs was charged with a violation — no pit bulls are allowed in New York City Housing Authority buildings, and his brother who was handling the dogs at the time of the attack, was charged with reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year, and one in five dog bite injuries require medical attention. In New York City, there were over 3600 dog bite cases reported in 2010. In fact, dog bites are such a prevalent problem nationwide that The Insurance Information Institute estimated that nearly $479 million in dog bite claims were paid by all insurance companies in 2011.

Many dog bite cases, such as the one described above, involve breeds such as pit bulls. A recent appellate court decision out of the State of Maryland declared pit bulls to be “inherently dangerous”. Unfortunately, such a distinction does not exist in New York and a “prior vicious propensity” of the animal standard exists.

Victims of dog bites often have serious injuries to their face and limbs, yet many of them cannot recover under New York State law. Currently, the victim of an attack can only recover if he proves the dog is vicious and that the owner knew of the dog’s vicious propensities. Victims of these attacks often need stitches, vaccinations and re-constructive surgeries; therefore, it is only fair that the owner of the animal compensate the victim for these expenses. A bill is pending in the New York State Senate (S1191) which would make owners of dogs who bite and injure another person strictly liable for the medical expenses of the injured person. In order to receive compensation above and beyond medical expenses (such as for pain and suffering or lost wages) the injured party would still have to prove that the dog had “dangerous or vicious propensities” and that the owner had knowledge of such propensities.

However, New York Senate Bill S1191, which has been pending for 2 years, is still inadequate. New York state law should provide strict liability for all damages suffered by victims of pit bull and other dog bite attacks, including pain and suffering and lost wages, not only for medical expenses.