Vicious-dog-imageBecoming a victim of a dog attack can be a devastating experience – both physically and emotionally. The physical wounds can range from cuts, to broken bones to disfiguring or even life-threatening injuries.

The emotional after-effects can be even more severe.  Dog attacks may affect the life of the victim in many ways:

Attacks may cause the victim to miss work and may result in a complete change in the victim’s life due to the injuries.

Many victims must deal with concerns such as stress or depression due to physical and financial limitations as a result of the attack.

Victims may also have to deal with the psychological symptoms due to experiencing a traumatic situation that may range from fear to flashbacks or anywhere in between.

Finally, victims may be terrified to deal with dogs and may be robbed of the wonderful experience of owning a pet.

Who is considered a victim of a dog attack? Those who are attacked by a dog are the obvious victims.  However, some folks find it surprising that those injured fleeing a potential attack also have legal options.

What Should I Do if I Have Been Attacked?

If you have become a victim of a dog attack, there are some steps that you should take. 

  • First, seek medical attention. Whether you call 911 or go to the hospital on your own, DO NOT WAIT.
  • Second, call the police or animal control as soon as possible to let them know that you were attacked. It is especially important to call the police or animal control quickly when the dog is loose or you do not know who it belongs to; a prompt call may allow them to find the dog.  Unfortunately, without the dog or knowledge of who owns dog, treatment may be more difficult for you, others may be in danger of similar injury and future legal proceedings may be impossible.
  • Third, when speaking with police, animal control and medical providers, ask for documentation. If no documentation is available at the time, ask for report numbers or names of the individual you are talking to. Fourth, document your injuries, medical visits and experiences through pictures and notes.   This will help you remember what you’ve gone through as a result of this injury and may be of help in future legal proceedings.
  • Finally, do not hesitate to contact an attorney that specializes in this type of case. Most clients feel that having someone going through the process with them is immensely helpful.  Ziff Law can help; we have years of experience handling this type of case.

What Happens in the Legal System?

In New York, there are a few different avenues to deal with dog attacks that provide different outcomes.  First, there is a dangerous dog proceeding.  In addition, there is a civil case against the owner of the dog.
What happens in each? Below, I will explain both types of proceedings briefly including what the proceeding is, what it is used for and how it may affect you, the owner and the dog. For further questions, help with the process, or to talk about your case, please feel free to call the Ziff Law Firm for expert advice.

Dangerous Dog Proceeding

A dangerous dog proceeding is a proceeding under Section 121 of Agriculture and Markets Law.  See the blog post ” ‘Dangerous Dog’ Law in New York State” for a more detailed description.  However, basically, a dangerous dog proceeding is a proceeding to impose penalties on the owner for having a dangerous dog which allows society to place controls on the dog.

As a victim of a dog attack, your involvement in this process will be contacting animal control and asking for a dangerous dog proceeding if animal control does not already suggest it. The proceeding is usually held in a local court and you may have to testify at the proceeding to help prove that it is “more likely than not that the dog attacked or threatened to attack.”  If the court finds that the dog was dangerous, the court will impose penalties against the owner and dog.

How does this proceeding affect the owner, the dog and you? Typically, the owner will only be fined unless the dog has attacked in the past; if the dog has attacked in the past it is possible that the owner may go to jail for up to 1 year.

Will the dog be euthanized or “put down”? Although many believe that this happens frequently, in reality, the opposite is true. Euthanizing a dog is a last resort and typically the court does not decide to do that unless the dog’s attack causes death or serious injury to a person or other animal or the dog has attacked in the past.  Rather, if the court finds that the dog is dangerous, they will likely impose other restrictions on the owner and dog to keep society safe from the animal.  For example, the court may require the pet be trained, require leashing or muzzling when in public and/or request confinement, among other things.

As a victim of a dog attack, a dangerous dog proceeding may help you by covering some of the costs of your injuries.  However, the costs are the only things that are covered.  Therefore, to reach additional expenses including emotional injuries or costs due to loss of work, a civil case against the owner is necessary.

A Civil Case: Liability Against the Pet’s Owner

As discussed above, bringing a civil case against a dog owner is different than a dangerous dog proceeding.  A civil case focuses on whether the owner is at fault, i.e., liable, and should pay for the victim’s expenses; therefore, a civil case is more about the victim’s experience than a dangerous dog proceeding.

For an owner to be held responsible for their dog’s attack in a civil case, it must be proved that the dog had “vicious propensities.” This concept is fairly complex; for more details see my “Vicious Propensities” posting.

However, in short, we can think of vicious propensities as something in the past that should have tipped off the owner that the dog might have a tendency to attack.  In a civil case, a jury decides whether the dog’s past actions were enough to “tip off” the owner by considering whether a reasonable person would have thought that the dog might attack. (For more details about what past juries have considered enough to hold owners responsible, you should also check see my “Vicious Propensities” posting on this blog.)

Unlike a dangerous dog proceeding, a civil case does not fine an owner or place controls on the dog; in fact, a civil case does not have any effect on the dog responsible for the attack.  Rather, a civil case compensates the victim for the losses associated with the attack if a jury believes the owner should have known the vicious propensity of his or her pet.

As a victim of a dog attack, a civil case may be helpful because it can allow you to recover additional costs related to the incident that would not be permitted in a dangerous dog proceeding.

In Summary

The dangerous dog proceeding and the civil case have different effects on the parties involved.  There are a few main differences:

  1. A dangerous dog proceeding may impose for some restrictions on the attacking dog, e.g., requiring a leash, muzzle or training and, in extreme cases, euthanasia; a civil case cannot impose restrictions on the attacking pet.
  2. A civil case allows for more compensation for a dog attack; a dangerous dog proceeding allows only costs to be covered.

Surprisingly, there is also some overlap between dangerous dog proceedings and civil cases. A finding of a dog as dangerous can be helpful in establishing vicious propensities of the dog in a civil case.

Can I proceed with both? It is possible to proceed with both. In fact, many people often find it satisfying to proceed with both because they are able to be involved in protecting others from a similar experience by helping to impose controls on the attacking pet as well as making sure they, as a victim, are fully compensated for their injuries and losses.

This article has been written to give you a very basic idea of what to do if you have been a victim of a dog attack.  Being such can be a very traumatic and difficult experience. Please do not hesitate to contact me directly at or call 800-ZIFFLAW (943-3529) to discuss your legal options.



James B. Reed
NY & PA Dog Bite Lawyer
Ziff Law Firm, LLP
303 William St., Elmira, NY 14902
Phone: (607) 733-8866 Fax: (607) 732-6062
Toll-free: (800)-943-3529