This past Sunday, it was reported that a young woman settled her claim that she was mauled by a pack of dogs that had taken up residence in a local school yard in Fresno, California. Apparently, the maintenance staff of the school had piled up garbage and built up "a hotel for dogs," and although the school officials had been warned about it, the school ignored these warnings, and instead disclaimed any liability for the incident because the school did not own the dogs.
After the judge in the case refused to dismiss the school negligence claims in the case, and ruled that the case would go to the jury for determination, the school opted to settle the action.
Ironically, there is a signficant chance that the same result either would or could not have been achieved in New York. Here are a few reasons why:
- First, the local authorities aren't necessarily liable for animal control - at least to the same degree as in California;
- Second, under New York law, it is rather difficult to impose liability on a dog's owner for injuries inflicted by the dog. (For more information on this topic, please see "Why Proving a Dog Bite Case in New York Isn't Easy");
- Third, I think New York's courts would find the causal connection between any act of building this "dog hotel" and the dog bite incident too attenuated to impose liability on the school for negligence, unless the plaintiff could prove that the school owed some special duty to the plaintiff (which did not appear to be the case here).