The current efforts to change the dog bite law of New York are well intentioned but unfortunately misguided. Senate Bill S1191, which has been pending for two years, is inadequate because it would provide the victim only with reimbursement for his medical costs. Our legal system does NOT state that the victim of a tort is entitled ONLY to reimbursement of medical costs, but to ALL of his damages. The idea that a plumber whose car hits you must pay your full damages, but that a plumber whose dog maims you can pay only your medical costs, is contrary to the law of all states and actually offensive to our American sense of justice.
Calling this bill a “strict liability law” without telling people about its severe limitation is misleading because there will be no strict liability for the major segment of a person’s damages, namely the pain and suffering, as well as the loss of income if the victim is an adult. In fact, those victims who have health insurance will not benefit one little bit from this law, and those who are covered under Medicare or a Medicaid program also will not benefit from it. New York will remain a one-bite state for the most part even if this law is passed.
Like Lillian’s Law in Texas, the New York bill is little more than a bone that is being thrown in the direction of the people who are concerned about the horrible effects of dog bites. By absorbing the energy of the movement that desires to improve the dog bite epidemic, this bill is actually a disservice to dog bite victims other than those who have no health insurance and do not qualify for Medicaid or Medicare.
Even the author’s “justification” for the bill is tellingly misleading. It states, “The goal of this bill is to encourage responsible dog ownership while ensuring that victims receive compensation for their injuries.” In fact, the two largest groups of dog bite victims – kids and seniors – are covered by Medicare and Medicaid, so this law will not improve their situation, and NO dog bite victims will be compensated for the largest segment of their damages, the pain and suffering, as well as their loss of income. So the “goal of this bill” is clearly NOT to make any real change in New York law.
New York needs to move into the 20th Century (it was in that century that most of the strict liability dog bite laws were enacted). Although it is thought of as a liberal state, New York’s dog bite laws are almost exactly the same ones that were created in the 17th century by British judges for the quaint English countryside. The highest court of New York has even ruled that there is no such thing as dog owner negligence. (See the New York section of dogbitelaw.com for details.) Reliance on the one bite rule is completely wrong, in modern New York or any other American state, because when the one bite rule was established there were no pit bulls, the practice of dog fighting had not been invented, there was no insurance industry to spread the risks, and there was no USA with its focus on fairness and human rights. All those things have changed, and that is why dogs have lost their right to bite in most states.
New York needs a strict liability law like that of nearby New Hampshire. The state of New Hampshire has a law pertaining to canine-inflicted injuries that covers any cause of damage by a dog, and applies to injuries to not only humans but also any form of property, including another dog or cat. (The text of the statute is set forth at the New Hampshire section of dogbitelaw.com.) Such a law is worth fighting for.