N.Y. Fourth Department: Animal Shelter Not Responsible for Volunteer’s Injuries Caused by Dog Bite

Cassandra Blake sued the Wyoming County Animal Shelter where she was working as a volunteer dog walker, after a dog at the shelter bit her causing her to suffer personal injuries. The Court concluded that Wyoming Animal Shelter was not responsible for damages suffered as a result of the injury because the Animal Shelter had successfully proven that it did not have knowledge of the dog’s “vicious propensities.”

The Court stated that, in order for Blake to succeed on her claim against the Wyoming County Animal Shelter, it must be proven that (1) the dog had “vicious propensities”, and (2) that the Wyoming County Animal Shelter had knowledge of the dog’s “vicious propensities”prior to the biting incident.  The Court concluded that while the first element may have been proven, the Wyoming County Animal Shelter did not have knowledge of the dog’s “vicious propensities.” As evidence of “vicious propensities,” Blake offered evidence that shelter personnel had been informed at the time of the dog’s surrender that the dog had previously knocked over a child. While the Court noted a tendency to knock a person over may reflect, what it termed a “proclivity to act in a way that puts others at risk of harm” – knocking a person over is, by itself, insufficient to prove that the dog had “vicious propensities.” Regardless, the cause of Blake’s injuries was a dog bite, not being knocked over by the dog. Therefore, the fact that a dog once knocked over a child does not mean that the dog had “vicious propensities.”

Next, Blake offered evidence that the dog may have bitten an eight-year-old girl roughly four months before being admitted to the shelter (and subsequently biting her). Compared to knocking the child over, the Court concluded that this is evidence of “vicious propensities.” However, because the responsibility for dealing with this dog bite fell upon the Wyoming County Health Department (who administered the required rabies shot), and not the Wyoming County Animal Shelter – the Court concluded that the dog’s possible bite of the eight-year-old did not provide the Animal Shelter with actual knowledge of the dog’s “vicious propensities.”

Noting that municipalities and counties often have separate and diverse agencies and departments, whose responsibilities and scopes do not overlap, the Court concluded that knowledge of the dog bite by one municipal department was insufficient to put another municipal department on notice of the dog’s “vicious propensities.” If Blake had offered further evidence proving that the Health Department’s knowledge was relayed or was available to the Animal Shelter, the Court inferred, then this element would be satisfied. However, because Wyoming County Animal Shelter did not have knowledge of the dog’s “vicious propensities,” Blake could not recover damages caused by the injury she suffered from being bitten by a dog at the shelter.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC have experience representing victims of dog bites.  Please call us to discuss your potential case.



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