Court of Appeals Finds Owners of Domestic Animals Not Liable Under Ordinary Negligence Principles
New York’s highest court recently reaffirmed New York’s long-standing principle that dog owners cannot be held liable under an ordinary negligence theory. See Doerr v. Goldsmith, 2015 NY Slip Op 04752, __ N.Y.3d __ (June 9, 2015). In doing so, the Court refused to extend a 2013 holding by the Court of Appeals allowing a negligence claim to be pursued against a farmer, who allegedly allowed a cow to negligently stray from his property.
In Doerr, the plaintiff was riding on his bicycle when he collided with defendant’s dog, who was running across the road to meet defendant in response to defendant’s call. Plaintiff sought to hold defendant liable on theory that the defendant had negligently allowed the dog to cross in front of him, as opposed to any “vicious propensity” on the part of the dog. In October 2013, the Appellate Division, First Department, denied summary judgment to the dog owner, following the then recently-decided Court of Appeals’ decision in Hastings v. Sauve, 21 N.Y.3d 122 (2013). In Hastings, the Court of Appeals permitted a negligence claim to proceed against an owner of a farm animal which had been allowed to stray from the property where it had been kept. The Appellate Division, First Department’s decision was the subject of a previous legal alert available at: http://barclaydamon.com/alerts/Owners-of-Domestic-Animals-May-Be-Held-Liable-Under-Ordinary-Tort-Principles-11-21-2013.
On appeal to the Court of Appeals, the Court in Doerr declined to extend the holding in Hastings to dog owners. The Court of Appeals distinguished dogs from farm animals (those defined as “domestic animals” under Agriculture and Markets Law § 108(7)). While a plaintiff can pursue a common law negligence theory against the owner of a farm animal for allowing the animal to stray from its property, that theory is not to be extended to dog owners. Consequently, the Court of Appeals reversed the First Department and granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant.
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