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Dog Bites

“My child was playing at a park and she decided petting a strange dog was a good idea. Unfortunately, she was bitten on the arm before I could get to her and now she is afraid of all dogs. Can I sue for my daughter’s injuries?”

When you sue for injuries, you should remember that you are suing the dog’s owner, so if the “strange” dog was a stray dog with no owner, then there is no one to sue.  But, if the dog was owned by a person, then your daughter might have a claim.

The law in New Jersey holds dog owners responsible for dog bites.  The law in New York is less favorable for dog bite victims. Most dog owners are not responsible for injuries the first time their pet bites someone. The reason owners are not responsible is because the pet owner had no notice of their dog’s “vicious propensities.” But once the dog bites someone, there is notice and the pet owner is responsible for medical bills and pain and suffering your daughter endured. The location of the dog bite incident will generally determine which state law applies.

Dog bite claims are generally covered by the pet owner’s renter’s or homeowner’s insurance.

A Tale of Crossing Guards

“My child was struck by a car while walking home from school.  Shouldn’t the City also be responsible for the accident as well as the driver of the car that struck my child for failing to provide crossing guards so children can get home safely on busy New York Streets?”

As with most questions presented, the answer really lies with the details of the accident if the City is negligent for failing to provide crossing guards. The lead case with crossing guard accidents is probably Florence v Goldberg, 44 NY2d 189 (1978).  This was a 1978 case in which a jury found the City responsible for failing to replace a civilian crossing guard assigned to a busy Brooklyn intersection who called in sick.  The 6 year old plaintiff was struck walking home.  The key fact in the case was the intersection was protected by a crossing guard for the first two weeks of school.  The plaintiff’s mother accompanied the plaintiff for the first two weeks of school.  She then accepted a job after two weeks and relied on the crossing guard to help her child get home safely.

The Court found that the crossing guard created a special duty of the police to insure the child would get home safely.  But the Court repeated the rule that there is no general duty to insure citizens are never the victims of accidents or crimes. Municipalities have limited resources so they are not responsible for every act violating its citizens.  A mugging victim cannot claim the City should have had more of a police presence to prevent a crime from occurring.  Similary, if an adult was struck in that busy Brooklyn intersection, there would be no claim because there was no special relationship between the vicitim and the police force.  Similarly, if the young victim in the Florence case was injured by a bandit who beat the child up or by a friend who pushed him down, there would be no claim.  The civilian crossing guard was only there to insure safety against cars in the intersection, not against all tragedies that can occurr on a City street.

The question, as it is written, never states if the intersection in question was normally covered by crossing guards or not. If the intersection in question never had a crossing guard to begin with, then the City would not be responsible because no special duty existed bewteen the City and your child.

Notice to Insurance Carrier

“I received a letter from an attorney notifying me that someone fell outside my home when I wasn’t there. The letter is asking me to turn it over to my homeowner’s insurance carrier.  But why should I do that if I don’t even know if the accident really took place? Won’t my homeowner’s insurance rate go up?”

Yes, you should turn the letter over to your homeowner’s insurance carrier. The whole point of having homeowner’s insurance is to cover you for losses that arise on your property, even if you are not there. The insurance carrier has an entire claims department, eager to investigate the claim against you. The carrier also have attorneys that they are paying that will defend if the case against you goes to court. And, if you have a damages judgment entered against you, the carrier will indmenify you for your loss.

You should not worry about your insurance rate, you should worry about giving your insurance carrier timely notice of the claim against you. If you do not turn the letter over to your insurance carrier, you may lose the right to have the carrier investigate and defend the claim against you. All policies insist that the carrier receive timely notice of any potential claims against you covered by the policy. If you fail to turn over that letter from the attorney to your insurance company, and then, you receive a summons a year later, you could be facing a disclaimer.  A disclaimer means, you pay for your own lawyer and investigator and you pay any judgments against you.

The risk is not worth it.  It is much easier to fight a rate hike assesed against you for a bogus claim, than it is to fight the insurane carrier to defend you in a lawsuit because you failed to give it timely notice.

Dram Shop Liability

“My daughter was injured in a bar by another girl her age.  Both my daughter and the assailant were 19 and both had been drinking.  Can my daughter sue the bar owner for her injuries?”

There are many more questions your daughter would have to answer before you could get an answer to your question, but your question raises the issue of Dram Shop liability for bar owners.  Without going into too much detail at this point, bar owners can be responsible for the wrongful acts of their patrons.

Your daughter might have claims based on common-law negligence and violations of statues.  The key statutes are Alcohol Beverage Control Law section 65, and General Obligation Law sections 11-100 and 11-101.  There are many facets to these claims, but essentially bar owners are responsible for the damages your daughter sustained if she can prove the bar owner served liquor to an intoxicated minor.

As stated initially, there are many questions your daughter would have to answer before there is a claim.  Was the assailant intoxicated? The injured party must show the bad actor was actually intoxicated at the time of the incident.  How did your daughter and her assailant obtain drinks in the bar? If someone else of age bought the drinks and then gave them to the assailant and your daughter, and bar owner had no reason to know that there was underage drinking taking place in the bar, then the bar owner is not responsible.  (For example, did your daughter and her assailant use fake identification stating they were both 21 and not 19 year old to enter the bar? Did someone else of age buy drinks for the assailant?) Did the assailant misbehave or cause any problems in the bar up until the time your daugher was injured? Bar owners are not responsible for random acts of violence that occur on their premises if there is no warning to the bar owner placing the bar owner on notice of possible trouble.

There may be more issues to consider depending on the answer to these questions.  Our office, like many personal injury firms, will not charge you to sit down and discuss the merits of your daughter’s case.

Children under the Law

“My son’s bike was damaged (but fortunately not my son) when a neighbor’s child had disingaged a parking brake on the family car and, since the car was a stick shift parked in nuetral, the car began to roll out of the neighbor’s driveway into the street, striking my son’s bike. Can I sue to get the bike fixed?”

The short answer is yes.  The best claim you have is against the owner of the car for negligent entrustment of the vehicle to a young child.  Even if the owner did not leave the car unlocked with a child alone in the car, so long as the owner left the keys in a location for the child to get to them, the owner would be responsible for safeguarding the vehicle.

In civil court, children under 4 cannot be charged with negligence  and children under 6 cannot be charged as violating the vehicle and traffic law. Although older children can be held liable for violating the vehicle and traffic law, children over 6 are only held to be responsible for laws they understand. Children over 4 could be negligent under the law, but their conduct is compared to “a reasonably prudent” child of the age of the child in question.