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Cyclist Injured by Dog Cannot Sue Owner, though Dog Moved on Owner’s Command

On Tuesday, the Appellate Division, First Department ruled that a man injured while cycling in Central Park, because his bicycle struck an unleashed dog, will not be able to sue the dog’s owner for negligence. And this is despite the fact that the owner commanded the dog to cross the path.

The court said in a 4-1 decision that Julie Smith, the owner of the dog, and her boyfriend Daniel Goldsmith, could not be held liable for the injuries of the cycler Wolfgang Doerr, because precedents limit the liability of owners of animals that  cause such damage.

In the instant case, Doerr saw Goldsmith holding a dog on one side of the road on which Doerr was cycling, and he also saw Julie Smith on the other side of the road, making gestures for the dog to cross the road.

The dog crossed the road in response to the commands of its owner, while Doerr crashed into the dog. He suffered injuries and sued.

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The unsigned court opinion observed, “When harm is caused by a domestic animal, its owner can be held liable if he knew, or should have known, of the animal’s vicious propensities.” However, the court observed that in the instant case, there was no evidence that Smith was aware of her dog’s “propensity to interfere with traffic.”

Justice Angela Mazzarelli held in dissent that the majority opinion could make it impossible to ever hold the owner of an animal liable for its actions under any circumstances. Mazzarelli distinguished the instant case from its precedents and said, “Simply put, this case is different from the cases addressing the issue of injury claims arising out of animal behaviour, because it was defendants’ actions, and not the dog’s own instinctive, volitional behaviour, that caused the accident.”

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