New York reexamines "one dog bite rule"

The case of a Labrador mix who caused an 8-year-old girl “disfiguring personal injuries” by biting her in the face has made it all the way to the highest court in the state of New York, which puts the “one-bite rule” of the state at risk.

In 2003, the dog, Scooter, bit the girl on the cheek inside a toy store in Bridgehampton, New York. Her parents promptly filed suit against toy merchant Juan Mendez, who is the owner of the dog. Mendez claims that the dog had never acted aggressively before.

On Thursday, February 14, in the New York State Court of Appeals, James Forde, the attorney for Bernstein, challenged the “one-bite rule” of the state. The rule, which is 180 years old, suggests that owners of dogs that have never showed vicious behavior in the past are not liable for attacks.

According to Mendez’s testimony in 2005, at the time of the attack, Scooter was six years old and had only been docile and friendly since being rescued from a shelter in East Hampton, NY by Mendez. He now believes that Scooter bit Danielle because he was attempting to get to the lollipop that was in her mouth. He says he keeps him off of his stores’ floors now.

According to Carol Finocchio, Mendez’s attorney, holding him liable for the out of the ordinary attack by Scooter could expose other owners of dogs to unprecedented legal risks. She says that everyone in the state who owns a dog would be subject to liability if a child was bitten by a dog, regardless of whether or not the animal was inclined to aggressiveness.

However, Forde argued that more responsibility may be a good idea, noting that over 40 sutures inside and out were required to rebuild the girl’s mouth.

Neither side in the case is arguing responsibility on the part of the victim. During a family visit to the Hamptons, Danielle entered the store and began to pet and kiss Scooter after being assured he was friendly. Suddenly, he gave a short growl and bit her face just below the left eye. Adults pulled her away from the dog and called for an ambulance.

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